Volcanic eruptions that played a role in triggering a mass extinction 200 million years ago offer a sober warning for us today amid our warming climate.
The mass extinction event, which wiped out about 76 percent of all terrestrial and marine species on Earth, is believed to have resulted from climate changes brought on by massive amounts of carbon dioxide released by volcanic eruptions at that time.
“This biotic crisis wiped out almost half of the existing species of the late Triassic in both marine and terrestrial realms,” Manfredo Capriolo, of the University of Padova in Italy and a co-author of the study, told The Guardian.
The researchers write that the amount of carbon emissions released in a single pulse of volcanic eruptions is similar to the total expected to be generated by human activity over the entire 21st century -- assuming a 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels.
"Our estimates suggest that the amount of CO2 that each CAMP magmatic pulse injected into the end-Triassic atmosphere is comparable to the amount of anthropogenic emissions projected for the 21st century. Such large volumes of volcanic CO2 likely contributed to end-Triassic global warming and ocean acidification," the researchers write in their paper, published Tuesday in Nature Communications.
The scientists gathered their findings from more than 200 rock samples around the world. They believe the extinction event offers a warning for our times.
“The initiation of these eruptions created one of the warmest climate since the dawn of animal life on our planet, and coincided with massive extinction on land and in the oceans,” Jessica Whiteside, associate professor of geochemistry at the University of Southampton who was not involved in the study, told The Guardian.
David Bond, from the U.K.'s University of Hull, whose research focuses on environmental changes during mass extinctions and who was not involved in the latest study, commented on the findings to Newsweek.
"Their study should send an important message to our policy makers — CO2 has driven some of the greatest extinctions in Earth history," Bond told Newsweek.
A separate study published last week found that Antarctica may have had a much warmer climate some 90 million years ago -- including rainforests.