WASHINGTON – Something wiped out nearly all life on Earth more than 250 million years ago, and whatever unleashed this mass die-off acted much faster than previously thought, scientists said Monday.
Based on an analysis of rocks in China, the end-Permian extinction occurred over the course of 60,000 years, give or take 48,000, researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That is about 10 times faster than previously believed and a blink of an eye in geological terms.
“It is clear that whatever triggered extinction must have acted very quickly,” said lead author Seth Burgess, a graduate student in earth science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The extinction killed off 96 percent of life on Earth. Many theories about its origin exist, top among them that a string of massive volcanic eruptions spewed huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans and causing intense global warming.