New evidence has been discovered by a team of scientists that the Great Permian Extinction, which occurred over 250 million years ago, was caused by massive volcanic eruptions that led to significant environmental changes and was the single worst mass extinction event in recorded history. The study found that the massive volcanic eruptions took place in what is now known as Siberia and sent the world spiraling into its worst extinction event, an event that wiped out as much as 96 percent of all species.
Lava flow from the massive volcanic eruption lasted for over one million years and released devastating amounts of greenhouse and sun-blocking gases.
Those chemicals triggered a rapid dropping of the Earth's temperature.
Sun-blocking aerosols also prevented solar radiation from reaching the Earth, which wreaked havoc on photosynthesis in the oceans and on land.
Key to the findings of the study, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports, was a dramatic spike globally in the chemical element nickel at the time of extinction. The volcanic eruptions, researchers say, are associated with nickel-rich magmatic intrusion, rocks that form as a result of the cooling of magma. The rocks contain some of the greatest deposits of nickel ore on the planet.
According to Michael Rampino, the study's senior author and geologist at New York University, the nickel most likely came from volcanic eruptions in the Siberian Traps 252 million years ago.
"The Siberian volcanic eruptions and related massive intrusions of nickel-rich magmas into the Earth's crust apparently emitted nickel-rich volatiles into the atmosphere, where they were distributed globally."
Scientists documented unusually high amounts of nickel in regions ranging from the Arctic to India at the time of the Great Permian Extinction. They found the nickel anomalies appeared to have been a worldwide phenomenon during that time period.
The "nickel fingerprint" at the time of the extinctions convinced the scientists that it was the volcanic eruption in Siberia that produced intense global warming and the mass extinction event.
"The Siberian Trap eruptions were the catalyst for the most extensive extinction event Earth has ever endured," Sedelia Rodriguez, a co-author of the paper, said in a statement.
Rodriguez also said the study would help scientists learn more about how certain events and occurrences can trigger massive extinctions that affect both land and marine animals.
"We look forward to expanding our research on nickel and other elements to delineate the specific areas affected by this eruption. In doing so, we hope to learn more about how these events trigger massive extinctions that affect both land and marine animals. Additionally, we hope this research will contribute to determining whether an event of this magnitude is possible in the future."
[Featured Image by Esteban Felix/AP Images]