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    MIT researchers find that the end-Permian extinction happened in just 60,000 years — much faster than earlier estimates – and appears to have been linked to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, possibly due to volcanic emissions.

    Study paper: High-precision timeline for Earth’s most severe extinction Significance

    Mass extinctions are major drivers of macroevolutionary change and mark fundamental transitions in the history of life, yet the feedbacks between environmental perturbation and biological response, which occur on submillennial timescales, are poorly understood. We present a high-precision age model for the end-Permian mass extinction, which was the most severe loss of marine and terrestrial biota in the last 542 My, that allows exploration of the sequence of events at millennial to decamillenial timescales 252 Mya. This record is critical for a better understanding of the punctuated nature and duration of the extinction, the reorganization of the carbon cycle, and a refined evaluation of potential trigger and kill mechanisms.

    The end-Permian mass extinction was the most severe loss of marine and terrestrial biota in the last 542 My. Understanding its cause and the controls on extinction/recovery dynamics depends on an accurate and precise age model. U-Pb zircon dates for five volcanic ash beds from the Global Stratotype Section and Point for the Permian-Triassic boundary at Meishan, China, define an age model for the extinction and allow exploration of the links between global environmental perturbation, carbon cycle disruption, mass extinction, and recovery at millennial timescales. The extinction occurred between 251.941 ± 0.037 and 251.880 ± 0.031 Mya, an interval of 60 ± 48 ka. Onset of a major reorganization of the carbon cycle immediately precedes the initiation of extinction and is punctuated by a sharp (3‰), short-lived negative spike in the isotopic composition of carbonate carbon. Carbon cycle volatility persists for ∼500 ka before a return to near preextinction values. Decamillenial to millennial level resolution of the mass extinction and its aftermath will permit a refined evaluation of the relative roles of rate-dependent processes contributing to the extinction, allowing insight into postextinction ecosystem expansion, and establish an accurate time point for evaluating the plausibility of trigger and kill mechanisms.

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