Can We Predict the Next Time the Earth Might Try to Kill Us?

Most mass extinctions begin with vast convulsions of the Earth's interior.

November 26, 2017 10:00 am
Sunlight eclipsing planet earth (Getty Images)

If science has taught us anything, it is that the Earth will try to kill us. It has extinguished large portions of its inhabitants several times, writes Ars Technicaand it will likely do it again. We refer to these events that wipe our species of animals and plants in a geological instant as “mass extinctions.”

The debate over what causes these extinctions has raged for decades. Some people think they are caused by environmental catastrophes and other ideas include diseases, galactic gamma rays, and dark matter. But Ars Technica writes that since the 1970s, most scientists think the root cause is either asteroid impacts or massive volcanic eruptions, or potentially a combination of the two.

Volcanism has coincided with most mass extinctions, if not all, according to Ars Technica. And these are not just normal volcanic eruptions, but Large Igneous Province, or LIP. The Siberian Traps LIP, for example, covered an area the size of Europe. LIPs have been potentially linked to all five of the Big Five extinctions.

According to Ars Technica, human mining and burning fossil fuels mimic the most deadly LIPs. Meanwhile, climate change, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and dead zones are all happening now, and Earth is responding as it did to LIPs.

Andy Ridgwell of UC Riverside told Ars Technica in 2015 that, “Apart from the stupid space rock hitting the Earth, most mass extinctions were CO2-driven global warming things. If you screw with the climate enough, you have huge extinctions. The difficulty is how much is enough, and what goes extinct.”

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