PerspectivePaleontology

Climate change and marine mass extinction

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Science  07 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6419, pp. 1113-1114
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav736

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Summary

Voluminous emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, rapid global warming, and a decline in biodiversity—the storyline is modern, but the setting is ancient: The end of the Permian Period, some 252 million years ago. For the end-Permian, the result was catastrophic: the greatest loss of plant and animal life in Earth history (1). Understanding the details of how this mass extinction played out is thus crucial to its use as an analog for our future. On page 1130 of this issue, Penn et al. (2) add an intriguing clue: The extinction was most severe at high latitudes. Using a state-of-the-art climate model that was interpreted in terms of physiological stress, the authors further identify the killer as hypoxia, which was brought on by warm temperatures and ocean deoxygenation.