PerspectiveClimate Change

Learning from past climatic changes

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Science  29 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6396, pp. 1400-1401
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau1690

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Over the course of the past 540 million years, five catastrophic mass extinction events occurred as a result of global climate changes. Those periods of large-magnitude warming or cooling resulted from catastrophic events such as asteroid impacts, paroxysmal volcanic activity, or peculiar geographic distributions of continents (1). The last of these mass extinction events occurred 66 million years ago at the Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary, which is well known for the vanishing of ammonoids and nonavian dinosaurs (see the figure). On page 1467 of this issue, MacLeod et al. (2) provide evidence that the temperature of surface marine waters off the coast of Tunisia rose by 5°C in the 100,000 years after the K/Pg boundary.