A paleogeographic reconstruction of the Early Triassic world (Smithian substage) around 252-247 million years ago, showing a ‘dead zone’ in the tropics. Marine reptiles (ichthyosaurs), terrestrial tetrapods and fish almost exclusively occurred in higher latitudes (>30 °N and >40 °S) with rare exceptions. (Photo : Yadong Sun, University of Leeds)
Think this summer was hot? At least it wasn't hot enough to make us go extinct, because that's exactly what happened back in the Early Triassic period. Scientists have determined that the reason that it took so long for new species to arise after the mass extinction at the end of the Permian era was because the world was simply too hot.
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"Global warming has long been linked to the end-Permian mass extinction, but this study is the first to show extreme temperatures kept life from re-starting in Equatorial latitudes for millions of years," said lead author of the paper Yadong Sun.
A mass extinction is typically followed by a 'dead zone' during which tens of thousands of years pass until new species assert themselves in the ecosystem. It took an abnormally long five million years for this to happen after the mass extinction at the end of the Permian era around 250 million years. The mass extinction wiped out almost all of the world's species before the dinosaurs came along.
The study revealed that ocean water temperatures reached a lethal temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Most current models cap the limit at around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and the study will help environmental scientists better understand just how far the Earth can be pushed and what the implications of such extremes are.
"We may have found the hottest time the world has ever had," geologist Paul Wignall from the University of Leeds in England told LiveScience.
The time would have been a strange one - no growing forests, no fish or marine life in the tropics (only shellfish), and no land animals. The dead zone was caused by a breakdown in the Earth's natural carbon recycling.
The study titled "Lethally Hot Temperatures During The Early Triassic Greenhouse" can be found in the October 19 issue of the journal Science.