The Edmond Sun

Opinion

May 1, 2013

ROCK DOC: The Smoking Gun: Mass extinctions

SPOKANE — As any child can tell you, the Mesozoic Era ends with the extinction of the dinosaurs. Most geologists think the cause of that extinction was the impact of an enormous meteorite that hit the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. As the theory goes, the impact was so large it led to global changes in the composition of the atmosphere. Smoke and dust raised by the collision blocked the sun’s light for a time, making temperatures drop and plants die off. Many species of both plants and animals didn’t live through the crisis, as parts of the food web simply fell apart. As it happens, the dinos were one group that gave up the ghost and slipped into extinction.

The extinction that carried off the dinosaurs is one of five mass extinctions in the geologic record during the last three eras of geologic time — the time marked by animals of sharply increasing complexity first in the seas and then on land.  Because the dinosaurs are famous the world around, the extinction that killed them is often discussed in public circles. But the causes of the other four mass extinctions are just as interesting to scientists.

Recently new evidence has been brought to light about the mass extinction that occurred during, rather than at the end, of the Mesozoic Era. The time in question stands at the boundary between the Triassic Period and the Jurassic Period (think of the movie Jurassic Park if you want a little help with these names). The extinction at issue saw the end of three quarters of the species then living in the seas and on land. The massive die off helped clear the ground for the dominance of the dinosaurs for more than the next 100 million years.

In the early Mesozoic what is now North America was united with Europe as part of a supercontinent called Pangaea. Pangaea broke up into separate continents as geologic time unfolded. Volcanic rocks of the same type and age are found along the East Coast and in Morocco, areas that were next to each other in the Triassic. The rocks resulted from a giant rift in the crust of the Earth, one that ultimately grew to become the Atlantic Ocean.

The massive eruptions that occurred in the late Triassic Period created what’s called the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province or CAMP. Along with volcanic rock, the eruptions would have added carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere, potentially triggering strong climate change.

The new evidence about CAMP published in the journal Science relates to the age of the volcanic rocks in question. Sophisticated dating techniques now indicate the whole CAMP province of volcanic rocks was formed during a period of only 40,000 years. Geologically speaking, that’s nearly instantaneous. Such a massive outpouring of lava in such a short time could well have rapidly changed the atmosphere and thus climate.

The more we learn about major extinctions, the more respect we must have for the ferocity of Mother Nature. Let’s hope we don’t live long enough to see her bear her volcanic claws once more.

E. KIRSTEN PETERS was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • The pessimist’s guide to grizzly bears and Earth Day

    This coming Friday, to “celebrate Earth Day,” the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. “Bears” is about grizzly bears.
    The trailer says, “From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family.”
    Talk about your misguided “Hollywood values.” I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live about 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still. ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Digging out of the CIA-Senate quagmire

    Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The White House, the CIA and the Senate still have to negotiate which portions of the report will be redacted before it is made public. But this is an important step in resolving the ugly dispute that has erupted between the intelligence committee and the intelligence agency.
    The dispute presents two very serious questions. Was the program consistent with American values and did it produce valuable intelligence? And is effective congressional oversight of secret activities possible in our democracy?

    April 15, 2014

  • Los Angeles Times: Congress extend jobless benefits again

    How’s this for irony: Having allowed federal unemployment benefits to run out in December, some lawmakers are balking at a bill to renew them retroactively because it might be hard to figure out who should receive them. Congress made this task far harder than it should have been, but the technical challenges aren’t insurmountable. Lawmakers should restore the benefits now and leave them in place until the unemployment rate reaches a more reasonable level.

    April 14, 2014

  • Many nations invested in Israel

    Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yoram Ettinger recently spoke to a gathering at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. The event began with a presentation by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, who told the attendee that the  upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover was an occasion for them to embrace the children of God, which is all of humanity.

    April 14, 2014

  • Coming soon: More ways to get to know your doctor

    Last week, the federal government released a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, is posting on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.
    This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don’t want to leave choosing a doctor to chance. But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what’s missing and how to interpret it.

    April 14, 2014

  • HEY HINK: Hateful bullies attempt to muffle free speech

    Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.

    April 11, 2014

  • Putting Oklahoma parents in charge

    Oklahoma’s public schools serve many children very well. Still, for various reasons, some students’ needs are better met in private schools, in virtual schools or elsewhere. That is why two state lawmakers have introduced legislation to give parents debit cards, literally, to shop for the educational services that work best for their children.

    April 11, 2014

  • Israelis, Palestinians are losing their chance

    Developments in the Middle East suggest that prospects of success for the Israeli-Palestinian talks, to which Secretary of State John Kerry has devoted countless hours and trips, are weakening.

    April 11, 2014

  • Teens might trade naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 11, 2014

  • Tax deadline and no reform in sight

    The annual tax filing deadline, which comes next Tuesday, provides a good opportunity for tax reform advocates to decry the current law’s increasing complexity and inequities, and to urge enactment of a simpler, fairer system.

    April 10, 2014

Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
Disagree
Undecided
     View Results