More than 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, Earth almost became a lifeless planet. Around 90 percent of all living species disappeared then, in what scientists have called “The Great Dying.” Thomas J. Algeo, has spent much of the past decade investigating the chemical evidence buried in rocks formed during this major extinction. The University of Cincinnati professor of geology has worked with a team of scientific colleagues to understand the ancient catastrophe. Algeo will present his latest findings at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, in Denver.
The world revealed by Algeo’s research sounds horrific and alien – a devastated landscape, barren of vegetation, scarred by erosion from showers of acid rain, huge “dead zones” in the oceans and runaway greenhouse gases leading to sizzling temperatures. This was Earth, 251 million years ago.
The more famous “K-T” extinction between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods – in which the dinosaurs went extinct – was triggered by a large meteoroid or bolide striking the Earth. The Great Dying, between the Permian and Triassic periods, has another culprit.