How global warming affected life on earth
Press release issued: 19 June 2003
A mere six degrees of global warming was enough to wipe out up to 95% of the species which were alive on earth at the end of the Permian period, 251 million years ago.
Professor Michael Benton, the University's Head of Earth Sciences, reveals this dramatic finding in his new book 'When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time' (Thames and Hudson, £16.95), which chronicles the geological efforts leading up to the discovery and its potential implications.
The end-Permian mass extinction is now thought to have been caused by gigantic volcanic eruptions, which triggered a runaway greenhouse effect and nearly put an end to life on earth.
Conditions in what geologists have termed the 'post-apocalyptic greenhouse' were so severe that only one large land animal was left alive, and it took 100 million years for species diversity to return to former levels.
Professor Benton said: "The end-Permian crisis nearly marked the end of life. It's estimated that fewer than one in ten species survived. Geologists are only now coming to appreciate the severity of the global catastrophe and to understand why and how so many species died so quickly."