Mass extinction 233 million years ago allowed dinosaurs to thrive

Hyperaxion Sep 18, 2020

Called the Carnian Pluvial Episode, the mass extinction event was triggered by volcanic eruptions that released large amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In an article recently published in the journal Science Advances, an international team of scientists identified a major mass extinction event 233 million years ago.

According to the study, the Carnian Pluvial Episode, as it was called, allowed dinosaurs to flourish and dominate most of the planet’s ecosystems.

The team of 17 researchers was led by Jacopo Dal Corso of the China University of Geosciences, and by Mike Benton of the University of Bristol, in the United Kingdom.

Mass extinction 233 million years ago allowed dinosaurs to thrive
(Credit: D. Bonadonna / MUSE, Trento).

Volcanic eruptions

The scientists reviewed all the geological and paleontological evidence of that time and developed a hypothesis of what may have triggered the mass extinction.

As they explain, the most likely cause was a series of massive volcanic eruptions in western Canada that released an enormous volume of volcanic basalt and formed much of the west coast of North America.

“The eruptions peaked in the Carnian,” Dal Corso said. “The eruptions were so huge, they pumped vast amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, and there were spikes of global warming.”

This climate change had a profound impact on life on Earth, causing a great loss of marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

A new dawn

However, soon after the mass extinction, new groups began to thrive, forming more complex ecosystems.

“The new floras probably provided slim pickings for the surviving herbivorous reptiles,” Benton said.

“We now know that dinosaurs originated some 20 million years before this event, but they remained quite rare and unimportant until the Carnian Pluvial Episode hit. It was the sudden arid conditions after the humid episode that gave dinosaurs their chance.”

Modern groups of plants and animals also appeared at that time, including some of the first turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and the first mammals.

In the oceans, this episode led to the emergence of modern coral reefs and plankton groups.

“So far, palaeontologists had identified five ‘big’ mass extinctions in the past 500 million years of the history of life. Each of these had a profound effect on the evolution of the Earth and of life,” Dal Corso said.

“We have identified another great extinction event, and it evidently had a major role in helping to reset life on land and in the oceans, marking the origins of modern ecosystems.”

Related topics:

dinosaur Mass extinction

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