Mass release of methane in oceans tilted Earth towards past extinction

July 24, 2011 – Prior to this research, most scientists have believed that the sudden extinction of nearly half of all life forms on the planet was due solely to the emissions from volcanic eruptions that were occurring in what was to become the Atlantic Ocean. Ruhl et al contend that instead, what happened, was that the small amount of atmospheric heating that occurred due to the exhaust from the volcanoes, caused the oceans to warm as well, leading to the melting of ice crystals at the bottom of the sea that were holding on to methane created by the millions of years of decomposing sea life. When the ice crystals melted, methane was released, which in turn caused the planet to warm even more, which led to more methane release in a chain reaction, that Ruhl says, was the real reason for the mass extinction that led to the next phase in world history, the rise of dinosaurs. Ruhl and his team base their assertions on studies they’ve made of the isotopes of carbon in plants (found in what is now the Austrian Alps) that existed during the period before the mass extinction. In so doing they found two different types of carbons and the molecules that were produced during that time frame. After extensive calculations, Ruhl and his team came to the conclusion that some 12,000 gigatons of methane would have had to have been pumped into the atmosphere to account for the differences in the isotopes; something the team believes could only have happened if the methane were to come from the sea floor. This new research, though dire sounding, may or may not have implications for modern Earth. While it is true that humans have pumped significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, amounts that are approaching what Ruhl and his team say led to the earlier methane release, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are on the same path, because as Ruhl points out, things are much different today, the very structure of the planet has changed so much that it would be impossible to transfer what might have been learned about events in Earth’s history 200 million years ago, to what is going on today. –Physics.org
contribution Anthony/Joseph
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3 Responses to Mass release of methane in oceans tilted Earth towards past extinction

  1. sinoed says:

    Ain’t going to do us any good though is it….but life survived then and it will do so again

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  2. Bone Idle says:

    The Siberian Trapps are believed to have caused an extinction event.
    The Deccan Trapps are an alternative theory as to the reason for the K.T. Boundary and extinction of the dinosaurs. (The dinosaur age lasted for 250 million years and during that time there were more than a few earthstrikes by very large out of earth objects – so I’m one of those not 100% buying the K.T. asteroid theory).
    Human contribution to the aggregate gases in the atmosphere pales into insignificance compared to natural sources.

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  3. Tomwe says:

    There was an interesting and scary article a couple years ago in Discovery Magazine about the possibility that a mass extinction occured long before the dinosaurs because of a “methane burp” which was caused, I believe, by the warming of oceans 7 or so degrees. Evidently there are vast deposits of hydrated “frozen” methane in the oceans kept in that state by the great pressure and cold temperatures. If so and it sublimated or turned into gas, we could be in for a breathing problem or a massive greenhouse effect.

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