About 250 million year ago, during the late Permian the world’s oceans stagnated causing a huge and lethal build up of hydrogen sulphide produced by anaerobic bacteria. Up to 95 percent of marine species and 85 percent of those on the land went extinct.
At least that is the view of Peter Ward writing in last week’s issue of New Scientist (Precambian strikes back, February 9, 2008)
The oceans stagnated because global warming from massive emissions of greenhouse gases from sustained volcanic eruptions warmed the high latitudes more than the equator, slowing the ocean currents.
A reader of this weblog, Dr Steve Short, recommends everyone read the article:
“This subject is not only close to my personal interests (as a geochemist) but raises some very interesting issues I have been mulling over for some years about the immense significance of the ‘partnership’ which actually applies on Earth between oxygen-breathing animal life and the oxygen-creating and CO2-absorbing cyanobacteria and plant kingdoms and the roles of methanogens and sulfur reducing bacteria.
I am coming round to the view that this is the real paradigm which the human race needs to embrace in order to manage issues such as AGW (if it actually exists) and (perhaps more importantly) the levels of dissolved CO2 and O2 in the surface layers of the ocean and the sustainability of the continental plant biomass.
Realization of this over-arching paradigm has deep implications for how we look at coal, oil and gas, how we may re-create it sustainably, how we manage our partnership with the oceanic cyanobacteria, the sea floor methanogens and continental plants in a truly intelligent and symbiotic way.
In my view this article might almost be classed as seminal, so profound are the issues which it raises in a popular science context.”
Mr T says
The Permian is a fascinating part of the Earth’s history, some of the hottest and coldest times, and of course the catastrophic mass-extinction.
I understood the arrangement of the continents had a big impact – being basically lumped together as Pangea and mostly near the equator. This arrangement made stratification ‘easier’. Today’s arrangement of continents ‘encourages’ the vertical circulation of water.
Dr Steve Short says
My apologies for failing to quickly put a substantive post into this new thread Jennifer has kindly started at my request. I am presently involved in management of the geochemical monitoring and rapid responses required by a major unexpected groundwater inflow to a working underground mine.
Due to job pressures I’d just like to ‘kick things off’ by reiterating that this subject is not only close to my personal interests (as a working geochemist for now 35 years) but raises some very interesting issues I have been mulling over in recent years about the immense significance of the ‘biogeochemical partnership’ which actually applies on Earth between oxygen-breathing animal life and the oxygen-creating and CO2-absorbing cyanobacteria (so called blue green algae) and plant kingdoms and the roles of methanogens and sulfur reducing bacteria.
Personally, I am coming round to the view that this is the real paradigm which the human race needs to embrace in order to manage issues such as AGW (to the extent it actually exists and is significant) and (perhaps more importantly) the levels of dissolved CO2 and O2 in the surface layers of the ocean (i.e. pH, cyanobacterial, bacterial and zooplankton activity issues) and the sustainability and purposes of the continental multicellular plant biomass.
Proper realization (and a cultural and technological embracing) of this over-arching paradigm has deep implications for how we might (should?) look at (pre-peak and peak) coal, oil and gas etc, how we could perhaps re-create and use these energy-rich materials sustainably, how we can and should manage our (critical) partnership with the oceanic cyanobacteria, the sea floor methanogens, continental plants etc in a intelligent and symbiotic way.
In my view what is inarguable is that we now exploiting this planet in an almost mindless way which is largely unsustainable.
For example, our critical relationship (via the O2 we breath) with the oceanic cyanobacteria surely tells us that it is that relationship which must lie at the heart of the solution to AGW.
For example, this would mean scrapping the endless studies of ‘hitech’ solutions and:
scrubbing the emissions of all coal and gas power stations with cyanobacteria and depositing the resulting biomass into mines, fractured rocks and the deep ocean;
stimulating and optimizing the productivity of th e vast pool of oceanic cyanobacteria with iron and nutrients;
ensuring the sinking flux of dead cyanobacteria is effectively immobilized on the sean floor, etc., etc.
ALL conducted in a context of a massively funded international level of study and monitoring.
Dr Steve Short – “ALL conducted in a context of a massively funded international level of study and monitoring.”
While I do understand that this is very worthy project to harness this sort of energy I do see some problems the biggest of which is “tickling the dragon’s tail”
By this I mean if we start really tampering with the methanogens and oceanic cyanobacteria on a large scale we have the potential to really stuff them up and perhaps trigger another Permian.
We have a limitless source of energy that we are too ignorant to use properly. If we cut back a bit and live within what the sun delivers we can avoid tampering with the Earth’s systems on such a scale.
Frankly after reading a book on the Permian even thinking of tampering with the methane clathrates makes me nervous.
Steve we also briefly visited a similar paleoclimate issue here in 2006. http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/001666.html