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Ancient Volcanic Eruptions Hint How Climate Change May Lead To Mass Extinction Events

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The extinction of marine organisms in the Early Jurassic Period occurred after powerful volcanic eruptions sent large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What does this tell about modern-day climate change?  ( Paul Kehrer | Flickr )

Climate change, marked by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is depleting oxygen from the world's oceans at an alarming phase.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Oceanic Deoxygenation And Mass Extinction Events

Theodore Them, from Florida State University, and colleagues found that millions of years ago, the oceans were drained of oxygen when powerful volcanic eruptions spewed large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This led to widespread marine life extinction that occurred in the Early Jurassic Period.

The prehistoric event offers glimpse on how modern-day carbon dioxide increases can impact species on Earth.

The researchers said that the ancient volcanic eruptions can be compared to current industrial emission of carbon dioxide. Significant amounts of oxygen has, in fact, already been lost from the world's oceans over the past 50 years.

Once the atmosphere has too much carbon dioxide, global temperatures would climb, setting off a cascade of biological, chemical, and hydrological events that could siphon oxygen from the oceans and cause devastating impacts on oxygen-consuming organisms.

The researchers said if the oxygen content of modern oceans continue to decline at current rate, future marine organisms could have the same fate as that of their Jurassic ancestors.

"It seems that no matter what event we observe in Earth's history, when we see carbon dioxide concentrations increasing rapidly, the result tends to be very similar: a major or mass extinction event," Them said. "This is another situation where we can unequivocally link widespread oceanic deoxygenation to a mass extinction."

Climate Change And Extinction Of Plant And Animal Species

It isn't just marine life that is in danger with increasing amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Earlier studies have already shown how climate change can eradicate other species on the planet.

A study spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund showed that a 4.5 celsius increase in temperature may place Amazon at risk of losing 69 percent of its plant species. A 3.2 celsius rise in temperature may likewise lead to the loss of nearly 50 percent of its animal species.

Madagascar, known for its diverse wildlife, may lose around 60 percent of its local species and up to 80 percent of mammals could go extinct in the Miombo Woodlands in southern Africa.

"Under a 2°C scenario, almost 25% of species in Priority Places are at risk of local extinction. Plants are projected to be particularly badly hit, because they are often unable to adapt quickly enough to a changing climate - which in turn may have a knock-on effect on other species that depend on them," the WWF said in its report.

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