About 252 million years ago, the earth’s temperature began to rise enormously. And at its peak, the temperature of the waters around the equator must have even ticked 40 degrees Celsius. No wonder countless animals that had always felt at home in these waters are under the control. And also on the land were great losses. It is estimated that up to 96% of marine animals and 70% of vertebrates died on land. And with that, it’s the most violent mass extinction the Earth has ever experienced.
But what exactly caused the earth to warm enormously and the life on Earth to disappear? Researchers have had ideas about this for a long time, and it is often pointed to the Russian Steppe, which arose in the same period. The Russian Steppe is a huge volcanic plain that still covers about 7.7 million square kilometers to this day. It is suspected that it is not the volcanic eruptions themselves, but large amounts of coal and vegetation that were burned by the red-hot magma, which led to global warming and subsequent mass extinction. However, there is no hard evidence for that hypothesis. Until now.
Scientists have travelled to the Siberian Steppes and collected samples and analysed them. In the samples, they found strange fragments reminiscent of burnt wood and burnt coal. A suspicion that was reinforced, during subsequent expeditions to the area, where charcoal and coal were found in various places.
To ensure that the strange fragments in the collected samples were the result of the burning of wood and coal, the researchers turned to Canadian scientist Steve Grasby. He had previously found microscopic remains of burnt coal on a Canadian Arctic island that were also roughly 250 million years old and are believed to have blown from Siberia to the island. Grasby analyzed the samples collected in Siberia and must conclude that they do indeed contain remnants of burning coal.
“Our study shows that the magma of the Siberian Steps touched and absorbed coal and organic matter,” said researcher Lindy Elkins-Tanton. “This provides us with direct evidence that the magma also ignited large amounts of coal and organic matter during the eruptions.”
The climate change caused by the burning of large quantities of coal had quite a few feet on the earth. Researchers believe it took millions of years for the ecosystems to recover.
Although warming was much more severe about 250 million years ago than global warming is experiencing today, there are also parallels to be seen. Similarly, the burning of fossil fuels – such as coal – is now leading to temperature increases. “When you see these similarities, it gives an additional impetus to take action now and to better understand how the Earth responds to these kinds of changes in the long run,” Elkins-Tanton says.
” Coal-burning in Siberia led to climate change 250 million years ago ” – Arizona State University