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Scientists Find Evidence of What Could Be Earth’s First Mass Extinction Event

Scientists Find Evidence of What Could Be Earth’s First Mass Extinction Event

New fossils from South America hint at life during the “Great Dying” extinction event of the Permian, and some fascinating new research on Yellowstone supervolcano.

Legal Insurrection readers will recall I have covered the five great mass extinction events throughout geologic history, including the “Great Dying” at the end of the Permian era and the asteroid-induced wipeout of the dinosaurs.

Scientists have uncovered evidence of a 6th mass extinction event. Shockingly, it has nothing to do with mankind or Paul Erlich.

The Ediacaran Period’s odd animals never got their chance to shine, thanks to a precarious drop in oxygen levels about 550 million years ago that triggered the first-ever extinction event. At least, that’s the latest theory. A recent study has announced the discovery of an extinction event preceding all five of Earth’s other known mass extinction events.

The study, published in November 2022 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, merged research from Virginia Tech and the University of California Riverside to reach the conclusion that the Ediacaran Period—which stretched from 635 million to 540 million years ago—saw the extinction of about 80 percent of all animals.

“This included the loss of many different types of animals, however those whose body plans and behaviors indicate that they relied on significant amounts of oxygen seem to have been hit particularly hard,” Scott Evans, lead researcher on the study, says in a news release. “This suggests that the extinction event was environmentally controlled, as are all other mass extinctions in the geologic record.”

Scientists point to the staggering 80% loss of species diversity between the White Sea stage of the Ediacaran Period and the last stage of that period, known as the Nama (550 to 539 million years ago), indicating a significant global environmental shift.

Past research has suggested that this decline may have been the result of mobile animals that burrowed or left trace fossils, which profoundly altered the environment and slowly replaced sessile filter feeders. This more recent evidence suggests that was not the case.

All types of feeding modes and life habits experienced similar losses, with only 14 genera still seen in the Nama out of 70 known groups from the earlier White Sea stage. If more newly evolved species had taken over, there also would have been temporal overlap between the new and the old species. This wasn’t observed, the team argued, ruling out biotic replacement.

“The decline in diversity between these assemblages is indicative of an extinction event, with the percentage of genera lost comparable to that experienced by marine invertebrates during the ‘Big 5’ mass extinctions,” Evans and colleagues wrote.

Many of the White Sea animals that survived the extinction event and remained in the Nama period were large, frond-like organisms with a high surface area to volume ratio. This could be a sign these animals were adapting to deal with a reduction in oceanic oxygen.

In other research, scientists have unearthed fossils of an apex predator in South Africa that provides a peek into the conditions of the Permian Era’s “Great Dying.” The tiger-sized, saber-toothed proto-mammal forerunner as known as Inostrancevia, and wandered through Pangea attempting to survive the harsh conditions that followed the eruptions that created the Siberian Traps 252 million years ago.

The mass extinction, occurring over a span of a million years or so, set the stage for the rise of the dinosaurs in the subsequent Triassic Period. Massive volcanism unleashed lava flows across large portions of Eurasia and pumped carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for thousands of years. This caused a spike in worldwide temperatures, depletion of oxygen in the seas and atmosphere, ocean acidification and global desertification.

Top predators were especially vulnerable to extinction because they required the most food and space.

“They tend to take a relatively long time to mature and have few offspring. When ecosystems are disrupted and prey supplies are reduced or available habitat is limited, top predators are disproportionately affected,” Kammerer said.

As we consider volcanism in conjunction with mass extinctions, I would also like to note that research indicates that eruptions of the Yellowstone supervolcano occur in a series or through multiple vents spewing volcanic material in rapid succession.

Yellowstone volcano is not expected to erupt anytime soon. However, the finding that the Lava Creek eruption may have followed a similar pattern to that of the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff eruption could give an idea of what to expect if and when Yellowstone does blow. “These major caldera-forming eruptions might not be single events at Yellowstone, but instead have multiple phases,” Poland said.

Researchers at the volcano now plan to carry out detailed examinations of the newly discovered units and the boundaries between them. This will allow them to paint a more detailed picture of what the Lava Creek eruption looked like — and maybe even what triggered it.

All this death and destruction, yet not one homo sapiens anywhere near when it happened.


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JackinSilverSpring | May 24, 2023 at 9:03 pm

I wonder how these scientists determined there was a mass extinction event during the Ediacaran period when there were hardly any, if any, hard bodied animals. It was not until the Cambrian period that there was explosion in hard bodied animals. For the second mass extinction event period, which the scientists attribute to a build up of CO2, I can see where that is leading to. The watermelons will say we have to reduce CO2 further to avoid another mass extinction event.

    retiredcantbefired in reply to JackinSilverSpring. | May 24, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    How big was the buildup in CO2 at the end of the Permian?

    And how did the mass eruptions lead to a significant reduction in the level of O2 in the atmosphere?

    If the watermelons expect support from what is known about the mass extinctions at the end of the Permian for their predictions of catastrophic global warming in the Holocene, they have a lot more explaining to do.

    They’re also claiming, without any evidence, that increased CO2, and not something else, was the cause for increased temperatures in the Triassic. It is also a bit of sleight of hand to imply that oxygen must have been replaced by the additional CO2, to such an extent that a mass extinction happened, without giving a mechanism by which that replacement occurred.

    The more likely culprit is an increase in solar activity, as warmer water can hold less CO2, causing outgassing that naturally increases atmospheric CO2.

    If, as I suspect, we are merely in between ice ages, when the next one begins (long before glaciers actually take over the earth) CO2 levels, along with crop yields, will crash.

    DaveGinOly in reply to JackinSilverSpring. | May 25, 2023 at 1:48 pm

    It’s explained in the article. They look at diversity in an early phase of the period and compare it to diversity in a later phase. No matter what animals are present, when one biota from the fossil record is replaced by another, with no evidence of a gradual transition from one to the other, that’s considered evidence the mass loss of diversity was caused by a geologic event, rather than via a natural succession of evolutions of animals that gradually displaced earlier life forms. It doesn’t matter that there were nearly no hard-bodied animals. The fact that there is a fossil record of any kinds of animals is sufficient.

George_Kaplan | May 24, 2023 at 9:37 pm

“All this death and destruction, yet not one homo sapiens anywhere near when it happened”?

Perhaps humans are smarter (or stupider) so went a different way to the animals? Then too, given evolutionists believe monkeys turned into humans in Africa only 300,000 or so years ago, any human remains found with ‘older’ remains would be discounted.

Creationists have something of a different interpretation of the evidence. Not sure about the ID crowd.

    Peabody in reply to George_Kaplan. | May 24, 2023 at 10:44 pm

    Scientists believe they have finally discovered a fossil belonging to the creature from which humanoids originated. It had a unique Cromagnon type skull with a thick neck and has been given the scientific name Fetterman Senator-pithecus.

    retiredcantbefired in reply to George_Kaplan. | May 24, 2023 at 11:01 pm

    How big was the buildup in CO2 at the end of the Permian?

    And how did the mass eruptions lead to a significant reduction in the level of O2 in the atmosphere?

    If the watermelons expect support from what is known about the mass extinctions at the end of the Permian for their predictions of catastrophic global warming in the Holocene, they have a lot more explaining to do.

    retiredcantbefired in reply to George_Kaplan. | May 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    Sorry to repeat a reply to a previous commenter.

    Can a creationist or an advocate of intelligent design (also appealing to a supernatural intelligence, yes?) accept any account of geological or paleontological evidence as pertaining to events on our planet 252 million years ago?

      In my mind, God created the universe. Mankind’s understanding of how that was done has varied widely over the centuries, as our understanding of natural phenonema has grown. I personally see no problem with the description in Genesis, as understood by unscientific nomads, and the description today. It is all still a theory, subject to further study and understanding. Not a problem in my mind.

      George_Kaplan in reply to retiredcantbefired. | May 25, 2023 at 1:08 am

      I’m not especially familiar with the ID position, my understanding is it’s quite a broad school of thought, so the timeline may or may not be a problem. Yes IDers believe in a supernatural intelligence as a necessary explanation for the impossibilities found within mainline evolutionary belief.

      While I’m not sure if the paper is an ID work, a recent paper titled Neo-Darwinism Must Mutate to Survive, found in the peer reviewed Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, points out some major issues with Darwinism. It’s mathematically impossible to derive macroevolution from microevolution, hypthesised but as yet undiscovered transitionary phases reduce an organisms chance of survival, and survival of the fittest fails the logic test when proposed as the origin of all complex, major, new body-types and metabolic functions. Ultimately 19th century science is not up to the task of explaining our origins. I don’t have access to the original paper however so am unclear on their conclusions or recommendations.

      For Creationists, more specifically YECers, it depends what you mean accept million year old evidence. Anything outside 6,000 to 10,000 years is most likely prior to the existence of time. Logically that’s impossible. They’ll accept data, but the interpretation of that data per evolutionary assumptions is unlikely to be accepted. While YECers do accept microevolution they dislike saying so as it appears as if they’re conceding evolution is real. Microevolution and macroevolution are fundamentally distinct, something real scientists understand, so the similarity of names leads to lay confusion. Microevolution entails variation within a kind – usually an exchange of information but no an increase in information, macroevolution entails variation leading to new kinds, and an increase in information, which we don’t see. The only examples are devolution e.g. fish living in lightless environments losing their eyes. But evolutionists don’t like conceding devolution and so the arguments continue.

      Standard YEC position is one of three things on this:

      1) The earth is young but was made to look old. They draw analogy to Adam and Eve being made adults and not children.

      2) The signs we see on Earth are simply misinterpreted and things aren’t as old as we think. Usually some type of “the catastrophism of the flood caused everything”.

      3) We can’t tell the age of things or explain the happenings of long ago because the laws of physics were different in the past than they are now. Usually applied to light from distant stars, but not strictly limited to that argument.

      CommoChief in reply to retiredcantbefired. | May 25, 2023 at 12:19 pm

      Sure. Intelligent design flows along with the idea of a Creator. IMO, where many religious folks get tripped up is attempting to use the Bible and other Scriptures or religious texts as the only evidence.

      I don’t believe I can understand the ‘mind’ of the Creator. Nor do I believe any human being can claim to have complete knowledge of the Creator’s intent or the methods used by the Creator. IMO it is the height of hubris to suggest that the Creator did things this way but not that way or to believe we are somehow dialed into the plans of the Creator to a degree of perfect understanding.

      I am not overly religious but I can’t accept that there isn’t a Creator acting upon a plan we don’t yet and probably won’t ever understand.

Inferential logic. Science is, with cause, a philosophy and practice in a limited frame of reference, in the near-domain.

inspectorudy | May 25, 2023 at 2:51 am

Have they found any SUVs or parts of them? They always seem to be the number one cause of CO2 and the killing of our planet.

Appears the newly found extinction event set the stage for the Cambrian explosion some 538 Ma. Very little known about what took place before then due to lack of fossils.

Jury is still out on the Permian Great Dying. These days mostly blamed on the Siberian traps, though life was stressed for tens of millions of years before then. There was an attempt to tie it to another suspected large impact crater in the vicinity of Oz a decade or two ago. Not enough supportive info on that as yet. Doesn’t even sound like anyone is still exploring it.

All in all, still a great mystery to investigate. Cheers –

The Democrat Party may cause the next one.

Devonian extinction happened a lot earlier and is considered one of the big 5.