Humans have experienced quite a lot – from massive volcanic eruptions to devastating storms, from catastrophic earthquakes to gigantic tsunamis, from mass genocides to world wars. However, we are still to face the biggest threat of all – an extinction level event that can wipe out most of the life forms on our home planet. Several such events have taken place on earth and most popular of all is the Cretaceous-Tertiary event that wiped out the dinosaurs from the face of this planet about 65 million years ago. However, that event was not really the most devastating of all. Tracing back the history of catastrophic extinction events, we come across the Permian-Triassic Extinction event that was by far the largest extinction event that ever took place on Earth. Let us learn 40 interesting Permian-Triassic Extinction event facts and find out what really happened and how much of life on Earth was put to an end.
Interesting Permian-Triassic Extinction Event Facts: 1-10
1. The Permian-Triassic Extinction event is also known as Great Permian Extinction. However, it is widely popular by the name Great Dying.
2. This event took place long before the dinosaurs roamed on this planet. The event took place nearly 252 million years ago.
3. The event took place at the end of Paleozoic era which was between the end of Permian and beginning of Triassic periods.
4. During that period, the entire land mass on earth was fused together to form one supercontinent – Pangea. The supercontinent extended all the way from North Pole to South Pole.
5. The whole super continent was surrounded by one super-ocean known as Panthalassa.
6. The Great Dying was the largest ever mass extinction that ever took place on earth. So devastating was the event that nearly all life forms were wiped out.
7. So catastrophic was the loss of biodiversity that earth took nearly 10 million years to recover from the loss – longest ever taken for recovery after a cataclysmic event like that.
8. So exactly how much was the loss? Here is a quick figure:
- Marine life form: 96% of all marine species became extinct.
- Terrestrial vertebrate: 70% of all life forms became extinct.
- Insects: 83% of all genera and 57% of all families became extinct.
9. Great Dying is the only known extinction event that led to mass extinction of insects.
10. Extinction took place in three distinct phases that spanned over a period of less than 200,000 years.
Interesting Permian-Triassic Extinction Event Facts: 11-20
11. Because the extinction took place in three phases, scientists are not really sure what caused the extinction. They think that it was a combination of different factors that led to the mass extinction of life.
12. However, the most commonly accepted theory is that of a volcanic eruption that triggered the cycle of extinction.
13. According to experts, two flood basalt eruptions triggered it all. One was the Emeishan Traps in the area which currently is the Sichuan province in China and the other one was the Siberian Traps in the area that is currently known as Siberia.
14. The Emeishan Traps eruptions were small but the Siberian Traps unleashed the true catastrophe that life on earth has ever endured.
15. The eruptions of the Siberian Traps were the largest that have ever occurred in history of earth. It happened during the late Permian and poured out millions of tons of molten basalt rock.
16. Animals and trees close the Siberian Traps were incinerated in a flash and tidal waves of lava continued to flow across the Pangea. The Siberian Traps spewed out enough basalt lava that covered 2 million square miles of Pangean land. The Siberian Traps kept spewing out lava for thousands of years.
17. The volcanic gases added to the misery. Gigatons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) were released in atmosphere from the Siberian Traps. These gases enveloped the entire planet, prepping up earth for annihilation from the sky.
18. These gases together resulted in killer climatic changes. SO2 successfully blocked out the sun rays from reaching earth, resulting in global cooling. The CO2 on other hand led to global warming through greenhouse effect by trapping in the heat.
19. The result of these climatic changes were catastrophic. For decades weather patterns changed. Breathing became difficult for the land animals because the oxygen levels went down in changed weather conditions. The primitive reptilian respiratory system of the animals were not equipped to deal with low oxygen levels. The animals were big in size.
20. In the harsh weather conditions, a type of animal with mammalian traits known as the Thrinaxodon, was equipped with physical getup to survive both heat and lowered oxygen levels. The Thrinaxodons were the earliest and most primitive known mammals. All mammals today, including the humans owe their existence to the Thrinaxodons who managed to survive through the Great Dying.
Interesting Permian-Triassic Extinction Event Facts: 21-30
21. Proterosuchus, yet another form of animal during the late Permian managed to survive. They were the nastiest of their times. Proterosuchus was a cold blooded animal and the rising temperatures made its life easier. Later dinosaurs evolved from the Proterosuchus.
22. The lava that continued to low out of the Siberian Traps continued to solidify, converting Pangea into a barren wasteland of black rocky mountains. The thickness of the lava kept growing to such an extent that 4 Empire State buildings could easily get buried while being stacked on top of each other.
23. In sky, the SO2 released from volcanic eruptions fused with water vapor (H2O) to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This acid poured down from sky in form of acid rain and put an end to the vegetation all around the globe.
24. With the very foundation of the food chain gone due to years of acid rain, the population of the herbivores like Dicynadons dwindled down. This resulted in death of the carnivores that depended on the herbivores.
25. With Pangea’s vegetation dead and the whole land mass converted into barren land, leaving behind only a handful of animals with relentless tenacity to survive, more havoc was unleashed by flash floods of the summer monsoons.
26. Much of the dead vegetation along with millions of tons of upper/top soil were washed into the Panthalassa by frequent flash floods. This waste influx converted the super-ocean into a cesspool.
27. On top of that, global warming was not done yet. With everywhere becoming hot, there was nothing left that could drive the air. The heat kept rising and reached a point where ocean currents stopped completely.
28. Oxygen levels in seas and oceans are maintained by ocean currents. The absence of ocean currents led to quick escape of oxygen from the water and this resulted in depletion of oxygen levels in Panthalassa. A whole new episode of catastrophe began.
29. With Panthalasa losing oxygen, marine life takes immense hit. Marine animals starts dropping dead on ocean bed.
30. It was not complete yet. The microbes in the ocean changed from those that are friendly towards life to those that create the deadly hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas, which is an extremely lethal chemical.
Interesting Permian-Triassic Extinction Event Facts: 31-40
31. H2S produced in ocean bed by microbes are released in air which gets circulated around the globe. The poison gas kills more of the remaining land animals.
32. The cold blooded animals manage to best adapt to the new atmospheric change because their cold blooded characteristic probably made them immune to this poison gas.
33. Adding to the saga of doom, the escaped H2S managed to destroy the ozone layer and allowed fatal levels of UV radiations to penetrate.
34. On top of that, frozen methane in ocean bed was released because of rising water temperature.
35. This methane moved up in atmosphere and provided additional support to carbon dioxide to intensify the greenhouse effect. Temperature of earth increases even more! Just a heads up, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.
36. Adding to the overall drama of the Great Dying was the ignition of the coal beds. Massive coal beds were lit up by the volcanism which possibly released about 3 trillion tons of carbon.
37. Not only the burning coal led to increase in temperature, it also produced millions of tons of fly ash that settled on land and water.
38. Particles in fly ash are known for very low settling velocities. Thus in water, they formed slurries, thereby effectively blocking out sunlight which prevented photosynthesis.
39. All toxic metals found in fly ash were released in ocean water, making the marine world a witch’s brew of death. This significantly increase the marine fatality rate as opposed to that on land.
40. The late Permian was known to host some of the largest known insects that lived on earth. However, so catastrophic was the extinction event that most of insects perished, never to be reborn again. Not just the large insects, even the smaller ones took hit but when it comes to survival tenacity, the insects emerged victorious compared to land and marine animals.
Living and breathing animals eventually returned from the grave after about 10 million years (some say 5-6 million years while some others say 30 million years) after the Great Dying or the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event. Only this time, the entire evolution was rest and the new animals evolved with what is known as Lilliput Effect – that is they were smaller than their predecessors.