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The End Permian Mass Extinction

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The End Permian Mass Extinction

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  • October 1999
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IntroductionThink of a world which existed 290 million years ago. As you look out over the terane in front of you, you think that you are on an alien planet. You see volcanoes spewing ash and lava. Beside them is the ocean which is swarming with many different species of echinoderms, bryozoans and brachiopods. As you look down onto the sea floor you are amazed at the countless number of starfish and urchins. Some animals leave you can't even describe and you have no idea even what phylum they belong to. This is a world at its height in diversity of oceanic species. Millions of wonderous species existed at this time in the ocean and most of them will never appear again in earth's history. In the geologic time scale, a million years means nothing but this time things are different. In the blink of an eye things now look vastly different. The world once again looks alien but it looks worse than before. The sky is dark. Oceans are no longer teaming with life. The stench of rotting flesh and plants hangs in the air. The ground trembles under your feet. You feel an intense heat burning you face. You look up and see one of the greatest show of force mother nature has ever shown. Whole mountains are being thrown in the air. Lava and debris are everywhere. You ask yourself, what has happened? Will life ever exist on earth again?The above paragraph is a primitive example of what the end of the Permian period could have looked like. Marine life was devastated, with a 57% reduction in the number of families (Sepkoski, 1986) and an estimated 96% extinction at the species level (Raup, 1979). Oceanic life suffered the most but terrestrial life forms were also greatly affected. There was a 77% reduction in the number of tetrapod families (Maxwell and Benton, 1987). All major groups of oceanic organisms were affected with the crinozoans (98%), anthozoans (96%), brachiopods (80%) and bryozoans (79%) suffering the greatest extinction (McKinney, 1987). The end of...

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