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An additional force likely contributed to a mass extinction event 250 million years ago, the largest on Earth.

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An analysis of minerals from southern China indicates that volcano eruptions produced a “Volcanic winter” that drastically reduced the temperatures of the Earth, a change that added to the environmental effects derived from other phenomena of the time.

The research, published in the journal Science Advances, examined the Late Permian Mass Extinction (EPME), which ended the 80-90% of terrestrial and marine species.

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“As we take a closer look at the geological record of the time of the great extinction, we discover that the global environmental disaster of the late Permian could have multiple causes between marine and non-marine species ”, says in a statement Michael Rampino, professor in the Department of Biology at New York University and one of the authors of the work.

For decades, scientists have investigated what could have caused this global ecological catastrophe, with many pointing to the spread of vast lava floods through what is known as the Siberian Traps, a large region of volcanic rock in the Russian province of Siberia.

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These eruptions caused environmental stresses, including severe global warming due to volcanic emissions of carbon dioxide and the consequent reduction in oxygenation of ocean waters, which caused the suffocation of marine life.

The team, made up of more than two dozen researchers, including scientists from Nanjing University and the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry in China, as well as the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution and the State University of China. Montclair, considered other factors that may have contributed to the end of the Permian Period, which lasted between 300 and 250 million years ago.

Specifically, they found mineral and related deposits on land in the southern region of China – especially copper and mercury – whose age coincided with the mass extinction at the end of the Permian in non-marine locations. Specifically, these deposits were marked by anomalies in their composition, probably due to the sulfur-rich emissions from nearby volcanic eruptions: they were covered by layers of volcanic ash.

“The atmospheric sulfuric acid aerosols produced by the eruptions may have been the cause of a rapid global cooling of several degrees, before the severe warming observed in the mass extinction interval of the late Permian”, explica Grapple.

The team’s results suggest that the Siberian Trap eruptions were not the sole cause of the late Permian mass extinction, and that the environmental effects of the eruptions in southern China, and elsewhere, may have played a role. vital in the disappearance of dozens of species.

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