A Moment of Science

Coal May Have Contributed To Mass Extinction

Canadian researchers have found evidence that coal may have contributed to the disaster that killed off the dinosaurs.

coal rock

Photo: Black Country Museums (flickr)

Coal may have played a part in the mass extinction.

There’s a lot of concern today about how the continued burning of coal could endanger the planet by intensifying climate change.

But coal fueled problems may have been even worse 250 million years ago. A lot worse.

In The Past…

Around that time, something happened that killed off up to ninety-five percent of marine life and nearly seventy percent of creatures on land an event known as the Permian Triassic extinction.

A common explanation for what caused such a massive dying off involves a series of volcanic eruptions in Siberia. The volcanoes spewed ash into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight, which destroyed plant life, which in turn starved out most animal species on land and in the oceans.

Coal May Have Contributed

But many scientists have suspected that the eruptions alone could not have done such widespread damage. Canadian researchers have found evidence that coal may have contributed to the disaster.

Specifically, they found particles in Permian era rocks that look suspiciously like fly ash the stuff that’s emitted from coal burning power plants.

So the scientists suspect that magma from the Siberian volcanoes may have ignited massive coal deposits in the region, sending plumes of coal ash into the atmosphere and around the world. Combined with volcanic ash, the burning coal could have pushed what was already a catastrophe to the level of a mass extinction event.

Read More:

  • Was mass extinction fueled by coal? (MSNBC)

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