by M. Benton, Sep 25, 2020 in ScienceAlert
Huge volcanic eruptions 233 million years ago pumped carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapour into the atmosphere. This series of violent explosions, on what we now know as the west coast of Canada, led to massive global warming.
The best known mass extinction happened at the end of the Cretaceous period, 66 million years ago. This is when dinosaurs, pterosaurs, marine reptiles and ammonites all died out.
This event was caused primarily by the impact of a giant asteroid that blacked out the light of the sun and caused darkness and freezing, followed by other massive perturbations of the oceans and atmosphere.
Geologists and palaeontologists agree on a roster of five such events, of which the end-Cretaceous mass extinction was the last. So our new discovery of a previously unknown mass extinction might seem unexpected.
And yet this event, termed the Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE), seems to have killed as many species as the giant asteroid did. Ecosystems on land and sea were profoundly changed, as the planet got warmer and drier.
On land, this triggered profound changes in plants and herbivores. In turn, with the decline of the dominant plant-eating tetrapods, such as rhynchosaurs and dicynodonts, the dinosaurs were given their chance.