Otago University scientist helps shed light on greatest mass extinction

Extreme volcanic activity and ocean acidification were responsible for the worst mass extinction in history, according to an international research team including a University of Otago scientist.

Extreme volcanic eruptions  triggered ocean acidification and the 'great dying'
Extreme volcanic eruptions triggered ocean acidification and the ‘great dying’

In a paper published last Friday in the leading journal Science, the team described how 252 million years ago extreme volcanic activity caused the oceans to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide,  becoming highly acidic in the process.

As the oceans became more acidic, more than 90 per cent of marine species were wiped out in an event known as the ‘great dying’.

Dr Matthew Clarkson is a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Otago’s Chemistry department, and coordinated the study while a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Clarkson said scientists have long suspected this ocean acidification event occured, but direct evidence has been lacking until now.

The study has been covered in the national and international media, including:

The Otago Daily Times: Findings shed light on climate change

Stuff: Earths worst mass extinction solved

Science Daily: Greatest mass extinction driven by acidic oceans

The Scientist: Acidic oceans behind extinctions