Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ancient Coal Combustion Technology Discovered

A new paper on the Permian-Triassic extinction event which was published this week is quite an interesting one.  The P-Tr (peter?) event is considered to be the most severe in the geologic record, with a huge number of families being wiped out in short order.  The new research is the first to provide clear support for the theory that the Siberian Traps flood basalt eruption contributed to the event, or might even have been the definitive cause.  The formation of the large igneous province has been propsed as a cause for a while, but a more recent idea is that the magma came up through a large region of coal beds.  The intense heat of the magma set the coal on fire, and the combination of eruption and combustion products led to a very large increase in carbon in the atmosphere.  The paper argues that the burning coal also injected a large amount of toxic material into the global environment.  (My guess is that the toxics are heavy metals, as the preview mentions coal fly ash.  But I can't say for sure because, as of now, the full article is behind a pay wall.)  The combination of rapid climate change and toxic materials caused the large number of extinctions.

While this paper is très intéressant, it also happens to be inconvenient for me.  I have seven different books on extinction events in one of my wish lists, and parts or all of each one may have suddenly been rendered obsolete.  I'll have to look at the contents now, instead of just selecting them on the basis of their covers titles.  Le sigh.

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