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.

"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 August 22, 2014 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 August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 22, 2014) Iceland evacuates an area north of the country's Bardarbunga volcano, as the country's civil protection agency says it cannot rule out an eruption. Authorities have already warned airlines. As Joel Flynn reports, ash from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) China's energy revolution could do more harm than good for the environment, despite the country's commitment to reducing pollution and curbing its carbon emissions. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) Aluminum giant, Novelis, has partnered with Red Hare Brewing Company to introduce the first certified high-content recycled beverage can. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
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:
from the past week

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