Scientists argue climate crisis caused 6th mass extinction 233 million years ago

A 3-D computer illustration of Hesperosuchus, an extinct genus of crocodylomorph reptiles.
(Image credit: iStock.)

The ongoing Holocene extinction is often referred to as the Earth's potential sixth mass extinction, but a new study claims it would actually be the seventh if that prediction comes to fruition.

Authors of the study, published Wednesday in Science Advances, suggests the Carnian Pluvial Episode, a mysterious time of sudden climate and environmental change in the Late Triassic some 233 million, was "clearly a mass extinction," adding to the "big five" over the past 500 million years that have already been recorded. A team of scientists reviewed geological evidence and the fossil record, The Guardian reports, coming to the conclusion that enormous volcanic eruptions occurred at the same time as a global loss of plants and animals.

One of the scientists who worked on the project, Jacopo Dal Corso, said there is evidence the volcanic explosions pumped vast amounts of greenhouse gas into the air, which drove global warming and ultimately harmed much of the Earth's biosphere, although dinosaurs during that time spread out widely and became the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for reasons that still aren't clear. The paper says modern coral reefs and other recognizable ecosystems also formed in the aftermath.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who wasn't involved with the research, was impressed with the study and said the researchers "have set out an ambitious agenda for testing this big, bold idea that dinosaur diversification was triggered by climate and environmental change," but he also acknowledged more needs to be done to see if the two events are really linked. Still, he said, "I think the odds are good." Read more at The Guardian.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.