Coal’s Role In The Third Great Extinction

Around 250 million years ago, much of life on Earth was destroyed. Known as the third great extinction or the Permian extinction, a team of researchers have suggested the burning of huge quantities of coal played a significant role in that event.
 
Researchers at the University of Calgary say they have uncovered evidence that shows massive volcanic eruptions burnt large volumes of coal, producing ash clouds and greenhouse gases that affected climate and suffocated oceans.
 
Up until now the cause of the Permian extinction was unclear, although climate change hadn’t been discounted. Previous researchers had suggested massive volcanic eruptions through coal beds in Siberia would  have been capable of generating enough greenhouse gases to cause runaway global warming.
 
Dr. Steve Grasby, adjunct professor in the U of C’s geoscience department and research scientist at Natural Resources Canada, and his colleagues have discovered layers of coal ash in rocks from the extinction boundary in Canada’s High Arctic.
 
The massive volcanic eruptions that triggered the coal burning were the largest the world has ever experienced. At that time, the Earth contained one large land mass, a supercontinent known as Pangaea.  The location of volcanoes, known as the Siberian Traps, cover an area just under two-million-square kilometers, larger than Europe’s land mass. What remains of the Siberian Traps are now found in northern Russia.
 
In the layers the researchers examined, abundant organic matter was found and identified as being coal ash; exactly like the fly-ash produced by today’s coal fired power plants. The researchers believe the highly toxic ash may have played a role in poisoning the land and suffocating the ocean by decreasing oxygen levels.
 
The burning of coal not only produces ash; but substances such as lead, arsenic and mercury. The coal fired power generation industry is the largest single contributor to airborne mercury emissions in the world
 
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