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Diary dates, megadeath edition

The Edinburgh Geological Society has a lecture on 25 November about ocean acidification.

At the boundary of the Permian and Triassic, ~252 million years ago, is the greatest mass extinction documented, where we estimate that more than 90% of Earth’s species died. The “PT” or 'Great Dying' hit marine species the hardest - killing off, for instance, the once ubiquitous trilobites.

Recent work has shown that ocean acidification triggered by Siberian Trap volcanism was a possible kill mechanism for this mass extinction. We present a high-resolution seawater pH record across this interval, using boron isotope data from the UAE combined with a quantitative modelling approach. In the latest Permian, increased ocean alkalinity primed the Earth system with a low level of atmospheric CO2 and a high ocean buffering capacity. The first phase of extinction was coincident with a slow injection of carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean pH remained stable. During the second extinction pulse, however, a rapid and large injection of carbon caused an abrupt acidification event that drove the preferential loss of heavily calcified marine biota.

As such, the extinction holds a cautionary lesson for today: because of CO2 released by burning fossil fuels, oceans could now be acidifying even faster than they did 250 million years ago, although the process hasn’t yet persisted nearly as long.

Details here.

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Reader Comments (38)

The word, "could", just as equally means "could not"! Also, where is their evidence that the "oceans could now be acidifying faster" than 250 million years ago? They advance none. More importantly, the oceans are alkaline not acidic. This sound pretty shoddy stuff, again!

Oct 12, 2015 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

The real explanation of the temperature rise of the equatorial oceans is the end of the then thermohaline circulation and equatorial clouds.

Oct 12, 2015 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

And if one finds the concept of punctuated-equilibrium plausible (which I do), then step changes in biological evolution a quarter of a billion years ago could account for rapid changes and extinctions in many life forms, even without invoking additional bio-geochemical mechanisms.

'Gaia' wasn't born yesterday, but went through a slow yet bumpy learning curve, and hasn't finished. The real question is whether the ecofanatics are learning any faster.

Oct 12, 2015 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"The oceans could now be acidifying even faster ......"

More taxpayers money IS being wasted than ever before.

Time to fossilise the Edinburgh Geological Society. There is no risk of sea level rising and dissolving their calcified carcases.

0/10 Fail. No original thought. Copied off the internet?

Oct 12, 2015 at 6:23 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I do hope that quote is a copy-and-paste. If it is, could we question how many are heading off the Dubai, and which hotel(s) would they be staying in during their studies?

Oct 12, 2015 at 6:48 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

The first phase of extinction was coincident with a slow injection of carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean pH remained stable. During the second extinction pulse, however, a rapid and large injection of carbon caused an abrupt acidification event that drove the preferential loss of heavily calcified marine biota.
This has to open up a whole load of questions, one of which could be, “How accurately can they determine any event within the 252 million year span?” They do seem to be giving the impression that they can say, “Well, this happened on a Tuesday – and look at what had happened by Thursday!” I would not be surprised if they could not refine it down to a millennium or two; would it really be realistic to say, “This happened within 2,000 years of that, so they must be linked!”

Oct 12, 2015 at 7:04 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Radical Rodent, someone will find some tree ring data to match the VeeDubb fraud, and prove trilobites had dodgy emissions, causing the extinction of the Antarctic polarbearasaurus.

Oct 12, 2015 at 7:15 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

We've been through all this propaganda of falsely using the term "ocean acidification". Anybody using the term is not doing science.

Oct 12, 2015 at 7:18 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"Time to fossilise the Edinburgh Geological Society. There is no risk of sea level rising and dissolving their calcified carcases" .... golf charlie

Heh Heh ....As always, clear & concise and cutting through the poop

Oct 12, 2015 at 7:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBLACK PEARL

"The oceans could now be acidifying faster" than 250 million years ago but not for nearly as long a period of time"

The Siberian trap volcanism is estimated by Russian geologists to have resulted in the extrusion of +/- 720,000 cubic miles of lava over a period of not less than several tens of thousands of years- possibly about 60,000.

Methinks the authors are a bit quick at crying wolf when the current level of anthropogenic CO2 emissions have been only happening for a few decades.

Pure publicity seeking!

Oct 12, 2015 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaleoclimate Buff

I've also seen no shortage of graphs indicating that those eons were also times of rapid changes in oxygen concentration. There is a chemistry clue here from the Greek derivation of the word Oxygen. Per wiki:

"Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς oxys, "acid", literally "sharp", referring to the sour taste of acids and -γενής -genes, "producer", literally "begetter", because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition."

Not all acids require oxygen, but redox reactions often have very significant pH effects.

Will no one rid us of these CO2-centic priests.

And like they really had accurate data about what the sun was doing. Never mind the volcanoes, comets etc etc. These people went to the Steven Spielberg school of carbon dioxide.

Oct 12, 2015 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I read up on this quite a bit when the paper behind this lecture was first published. It is a very incomplete picture. The Siberian traps are a flood basalt event. Rather like most Iceland eruptions. Those are known to produce massive SO2, more lilely to have been the major ocean 'acidifier'. Those eruptions also produce less CO2. The CO2 injection came from the eruption igniting massive coal seams that underlaid the area (and still exist to the east and southeast of the Siberian traps geography. Recently, the soot to be expected from such coal seam fires was identified in Chinese sediment cores from the event. The flood basalts lasted maybe 60,000 years. The majority of the land extinction event is dated (roughly, with considerable uncertainty, to the first 10000. Given ocean buffering capacity, the sea extinctions took much longer. The end of the trilobites.

Oct 12, 2015 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

acidifying a word chosen not for its scientific value but its 'value' has a scary sounding idea , which is all you really need to know about the intent and motivation of this work.

Oct 12, 2015 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

"As such, the extinction holds a cautionary lesson for today.."

Tomorrow's cautionary lesson, will be about destroying the Edinburgh Geological Society's credibility by publishing anything, for the benefit of publicity.

Next month, as part of Equality Awareness Week, there will be a ladies practical demonstration of using a geological hammer topless, and how to smash your Professor's rocks.

Oct 12, 2015 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

25 November Prof. Rachel Wood University of Edinburgh
The ‘Great Dying’: what really happened 252 million years ago?

Yes, thats a question mark & still a question mark Prof :-(

"During the second extinction pulse, however, a rapid and large injection of carbon caused an abrupt acidification event that drove the preferential loss of heavily calcified marine biota."
so it's Carbon thats the problem now !! throws his pencil in the air :-)

Oct 12, 2015 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterdfhunter

dfhunter, either the second injection of carbon followed the discovery of the solar soda syphon, or it followed the loss of the more mundane earthly soda syphon, resulting in a greater concentration of whisky to water.

Oct 12, 2015 at 11:42 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Rud Istvan:
I'm with you. I still remember enough chemistry to realise that sulphur oxides are far more acidic than carbon dioxide, and they are released during volcanic eruptions.

Surely these heavily funded "scientists" could saturate sea water with carbon dioxide (at atmospheric pressure). Then they could prove how much "acidification" occurs.
Or perhaps they have but prefer not to spoil a good scheme with the facts.

Oct 13, 2015 at 12:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

"We present a high-resolution seawater pH record across this interval, using boron isotope data from the UAE combined with a quantitative modelling approach."

Rubbish. It's not a 'record' at all. It's merely "data" from a hybridised magic black box bereft of testable validity, even less useful than the usual climate models if that is possible.

Oct 13, 2015 at 6:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterManfred

Scary headlines for a media-savvy age. Nothing else matters.

The Guardian (who knew?) are at it yet again with another 'melting Antarctica' story. Apparently this time it's 'worse than previously thought, ever!', and could be entirely gone by 2100. But if we stop using fossil fuels then magically we'll 'have it under control' again by 2050. Amazing. Comic-quality stuff that would be edited out of the Beano.

Oct 13, 2015 at 7:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheshireRed

So the oceans are heading towards fresh drinkable water and we are to be afraid.!!!

Oct 13, 2015 at 7:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Whale

In the case of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, the evidence consists of unusually large amounts of iridium deposited globally with dinosaur fossils found below, but not above, the layer. What marker for eruption of the Siberian Traps might be found globally, with the appropriate fossils above and below?

Oct 13, 2015 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Why concentrate on CO2 when the Siberian Traps would have produced more sulphur dioxide than CO2? The buffering would only work with CO2 not SO2 so producing a lower pH BUT the SO2 precipitated out eventually to gypsum after the great extinction.

Looks like an incomplete piece of research or a poorly done paper.

Oct 13, 2015 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

In a related issue, the BBC were at it again last night with the programme “The Secret Life of Ice.” I caught the end of the programme, (the point where the BBC always hit us with their AGW propaganda stunts) just in time to see another “expert,” Doctor Gabrielle Walker, prostitute herself by saying that there was a very close relationship between atmospheric temperature and CO2, and intimated that increased concentration of CO2 caused the increased temperature. There was no attempt to explain that in general, the increase in temperature precedes the rise in CO2 concentration and that this relationship is entirely to be expected as the CO2 outgasses from the warmer oceans because of a reduced solubility at higher temperature.

The BBC have had four years to correct this blatant piece of misleading propaganda, as the programme was first aired in October 2011, but have failed to do so. Presumably they have been trawling their back catalogue for any programme which can help to ram home the cause in time for Paris. Are we to have another showing of Frozen Planet as well, where the BBC faked the location of the Polar Bear births?

Oct 13, 2015 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterColin Porter

I recall reading a paper on ocean acidification last year and it ended with this little snippet:

Regardless of the choice of the constant applied in these studies, all publications agree that there is a lack of understanding of biological effects on the boron isotopic composition of the marine carbonates, and until those are constrained the reconstruction of the absolute paleo-pH changes will remain a challenge.

Oct 13, 2015 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeA

I am selling caustic soda.
So if you receive acid burns from sea water, just throw on some of my caustic soda and neutralise the problem.

I also have a couple of bridges for sale to genuinely interested partners. The bridges help you get over it.

Oct 13, 2015 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered Commentertoorightmate

do the warmish EVER write something without the word "could" in it?

Whenever you see the word "could", you can as well read the word "could NOT", for the same money.

Can I also get a billion R7d tax funds and write a few statements with the word "could" in , please??

Oct 13, 2015 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusNotWarmerDueToCO2

Rachel Wood. attempting to link the Siberian traps volcanic episode, it's emissivity and that of the puny, miserable efforts of man made CO" - the comparison is utterly specious. Professor [Wood] - if that's what she purports to be, she really needs to sit in at a few a basic chemistry lessons. As Rud Istvan intimates above. Plus and we have had a very recent example of the type of acrid emissions a fissure eruption produces and contrasting the Holuhraun event with a much bigger episode, then try to imagine what sort of toxic fumes the Siberian traps would release and the scale is of another order.....................:

The Laki fissure eruption itself continued for 8 months, erupted ca. 14 km³ of basaltic lava and emitted poisonous volcanic gasses (hydrofluoric acid and sulphur dioxide) that killed 50% of the livestock on Iceland. As a result, about 25% of the Icelandic human population starved to death. But the deadly results from this eruption did not stop there: in the aftermath of the eruption temperatures plunged globally due to the large amounts of sulphur dioxide that was injected in the northern hemisphere. It is estimated that the famine resulting from this climate change killed about 6 million people worldwide - making one of the most deadly volcanic eruptions of all times.

Luckily, the recent Holuhraun fissure eruption has not been so poisonous, although it did also emit a lot of sulphur dioxide in the surrounding atmosphere, which at times drifted to other parts of northern Europe. The Icelandic Civil Protection will continue to closely monitor the emission of volcanic gasses and issue warnings / alerts if the combination of degassing and the weather are forecasted to result in dangerous high levels of sulphur dioxide in certain parts of Iceland.

It should be noted, that, Hydrofluoric acid is used in the glass industry to etch glass and is thus - a very dangerous and corrosive substance. At a guestimation, imho: the Siberian traps event would have poisoned the atmosphere of most of the NH, if not the world.

Oct 13, 2015 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Hmm CO"? try, read CO² - with apols.

Oct 13, 2015 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Now as I recall the Siberian Traps eruptions were of a magnitude and extent that made Tambora look like a damp squip in comparison. Over a period of almost 1 million years the magma released covered an estimated 7 MILLION square kms with multiple individual eruptions some of which involved erupted volumes of lava in excess of 2 million cubic km.

Compare and contrast

Mount St Helens 1 km3
Krakatoa 45 km3
Tambora 160 km3
Yellowstone 1000 km3
Siberian Traps - multiple eruptions of 1 to 4 MILLION km3

I cant help thinking that CO2 emissions were the least of the problems associated with the Siberian Traps event and they would have exceeded ALL past and future human emissions by a handy margin.

Oct 13, 2015 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Willshaw

Hmm? There's a big difference between now and then.

We (and every other life form on Earth) are descendants of the plants and animals that managed to survive the "great dying". Perhaps that might give us some evolutionary advantage if it repeated?

Oct 13, 2015 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterTDK

Or even CO₂

Oct 13, 2015 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeA

It would be refreshing to return Earth Science research to the purity of interpretation unencumbered by the pressure and temptations of research funding and ease of publication afforded by genuflection to political policy relevant dogma.

Oct 13, 2015 at 9:30 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Frank @ Oct 13, 2015 at 8:42 AM

Volcanic eruptions can also release iridium, and that marker is not as clear cut as popularly thought. There was some build up before the impact, a huge spike ( in parts per trillium) followed by slow decay. This may be that the impact triggered a major increase in an existing eruption.

I expect that shortly the BBC will provide actual footage of the even proving that the eruption was all CO2.

Oct 13, 2015 at 10:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

Keith Willshaw, 4:43, I think you have to put into the volcanic comparisons the damage caused by the eruption of climate science. The devastating eruption of Climate Scienceit has caused, human suffering etc over 20+ years, and must equate to several Krakatoas per continent per year. (Antarctica's can be randomly distributed between developed and developing countries for maximum human misery)

Oct 13, 2015 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Colin Porter (Oct 13, 2015 at 11:24 AM): please do not try and resurrect that old canard. The possibility of safely filming a polar bear birth in the wild is ZERO – first, they have to find the den, buried deep in a snow drift in the depths of an Arctic winter, then they have to establish the film equipment without arousing the ire of mummy bear, then they have to hang around for anything from several days to several weeks, always in the depths of an Arctic winter, always ensuring the bear is not disturbed. What they did was to reproduce what is likely to be taking place in such an impossible-to-reach location, in a safe, sane and rational manner. If you doubt me on its impossibility, please go out and prove me wrong – the footage would fetch an amazing price (certainly enough to pay for your repatriation and funeral). You do realise that a lot of the sounds you hear on programmes like this are not real sounds from the wild? Whether it be the sloshing sound of fish on the reef, the flutter of wings, the crunch of gravel underfoot or the sound of the 30-piece orchestra, much of the sounds you hear are added in the sound studio.

The fuss over it irritated me greatly when it first occurred; to raise it again is taking pettiness to extremes.

Oct 13, 2015 at 10:53 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

The Edinburgh Geological Society follows an ignominious trend, in deliberately fudging the rather big difference between carbon and carbon dioxide. As Rud Istvan has pointed out, combusted carbon was a plausible by-product of the fact that the Permian eruptions occurred near huge coal deposits. Laki, in Iceland, on the other hand, is nowhere near any Carboniferous deposits, but it certainly altered the weather for northern and western Europe, at the very least.

Oct 13, 2015 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Or even CO₂

It took a bit of digging but I got there in the end:O(

CO₂ CO₂CO₂CO₂CO₂CO₂CO₂CO₂ - now, I think I'm seeing the symbolism.

Oct 14, 2015 at 12:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Carbonic acid made the seas dangerously acidic?

Just like carbonic acid makes normal rainfall dangerously acidic along with many freestone streams (lacking much buffering capability).

It would likely be cheaper to build these folks a time machine. At least build them a time machine that is as reliable as the climate models and then set the time machine afloat on the seas, (so they can check for carbonic acidification back at the Permian traps)

Another puzzling thought. I've dug for trilobite fossils in several locations. I don't remember any fossils that appeared to have calcium deficient shells.

Oct 14, 2015 at 5:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

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