Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New culprit in Earth's massive extinction: Mercury

Date:
January 9, 2012
Source:
University of Calgary
Summary:
Researchers have discovered a new culprit likely involved in Earth's greatest extinction event: an influx of mercury into the ecosystem.

Scientists have uncovered a lot about Earth's greatest extinction event that took place 250 million years ago when rapid climate change wiped out nearly all marine species and a majority of those on land. Now, they have discovered a new culprit likely involved in the annihilation: an influx of mercury into the eco-system.

Related Articles


"No one had ever looked to see if mercury was a potential culprit. This was a time of the greatest volcanic activity in Earth's history and we know today that the largest source of mercury comes from volcanic eruptions," says Dr. Steve Grasby, co-author of a paper published this month in the journal Geology. "We estimate that the mercury released then could have been up to 30 times greater than today's volcanic activity, making the event truly catastrophic." Grasby is a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.

Dr. Benoit Beauchamp, professor of geology at the University of Calgary, says this study is significant because it's the first time mercury has been linked to the cause of the massive extinction that took place during the end of the Permian.

"Geologists, including myself should be taking notes and taking another look at the other five big extinction events," says Beauchamp, also a co-author.

During the late Permian, the natural buffering system in the ocean became overloaded with mercury contributing to the loss of 95 per cent of life in the sea.

"Typically, algae acts like a scavenger and buries the mercury in the sediment, mitigating the effect in the oceans," says lead-author Dr. Hamed Sanei, research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and adjunct professor at the University of Calgary. "But in this case, the load was just so huge that it could not stop the damage."

About 250 million years ago, a time long before dinosaurs ruled and when all land formed one big continent, the majority of life in the ocean and on land was wiped out. The generally accepted idea is that volcanic eruptions burned though coal beds, releasing CO2 and other deadly toxins. Direct proof of this theory was outlined in a paper that was published by these same authors last January in Nature Geoscience.

The mercury deposition rates could have been significantly higher in the late Permian when compared with today's human-caused emissions. In some cases, levels of mercury in the late Permian ocean was similar to what is found near highly contaminated ponds near smelters, where the aquatic system is severely damaged, say researchers.

"We are adding to the levels through industrial emissions. This is a warning for us here on Earth today," adds Beauchamp. In North America, at least, there has been a steady decline through regulations controlling mercury.

No matter what happens, this study shows life's tenacity. "The story is one of recovery as well. After the system was overloaded and most of life was destroyed, the oceans were still able to self clean and we were able to move on to the next phase of life," says Sanei.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Calgary. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. H. Sanei, S. E. Grasby, B. Beauchamp. Latest Permian mercury anomalies. Geology, 2011; 40 (1): 63 DOI: 10.1130/G32596.1

Cite This Page:

University of Calgary. "New culprit in Earth's massive extinction: Mercury." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120105175832.htm>.
University of Calgary. (2012, January 9). New culprit in Earth's massive extinction: Mercury. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120105175832.htm
University of Calgary. "New culprit in Earth's massive extinction: Mercury." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120105175832.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Arthropod Fossil Might Be Relative Of Spiders, Scorpions

New Arthropod Fossil Might Be Relative Of Spiders, Scorpions

Newsy (Mar. 29, 2015) A 508-million-year-old arthropod that swam in the Cambrian seas is thought to share a common ancestor with spiders and scorpions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vietnam Rice Boom Piles Pressure on Farmers and the Environment

Vietnam Rice Boom Piles Pressure on Farmers and the Environment

AFP (Mar. 29, 2015) Vietnam&apos;s drive to become the world&apos;s leading rice exporter is pushing farmers in the fertile Mekong Delta to the brink, say experts, with mounting costs to the environment. Duration: 02:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: New Eruptions at Colima Volcano in Mexico

Raw: New Eruptions at Colima Volcano in Mexico

AP (Mar. 28, 2015) The Colima Volcano in western Mexico sent large columns of ash up into the air on Saturday. (March 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Antarctic Ice Is Melting Faster Than Ever

Antarctic Ice Is Melting Faster Than Ever

Newsy (Mar. 27, 2015) A new study of nearly two decades of satellite data shows Antarctic ice shelves are losing more mass faster every year. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins