Near the end of the Permian Period, roughly 252 million years ago, a single supercontinent dominated the planet. The ocean around it was traversed by bony fish covered in armored plates and sea scorpions the size of modern humans. Segmented arthropods such as trilobites ruled the deep, along with all manner of brachiopods, which looked like clams but weren’t, and ammonoids, which resembled shelled nautiluses but were more like squids and octopuses.
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The Current Rate of Ocean Warming Could Bring the Greatest Extinction of Sealife in 250 Million Years
A new study suggests that warming, oxygen-starved seas could lead marine species to vanish at a rate matching the planet’s biggest extinction event on record. If greenhouse gas pollution remains unchecked, global warming could trigger the most catastrophic extinction of ocean species since the end of the Permian age, about 250 million years ago, scientists warned in a new study today. During the end-Permian Extinction, researchers estimate up to 90 percent of marine organisms died out in overheated, acidic and deoxygenated oceans.
Unless climate change is curbed, Earth’s oceans could see a mass extinction of marine life unlike anything the planet has seen for millions of years. “If carbon dioxide emissions accelerate unchecked over the next century, this would lead to extreme warming, driving extinctions in the ocean rivaling the mass extinctions in Earth’s past,” study lead author Justin Penn of Princeton University told USA TODAY.
At first, the scientists chose a straightforward title for their research: “Marine Extinction Risk From Climate Warming.” But as publication approached, something nagged at them. Their findings illustrated two drastically different outcomes for ocean life over the next three centuries depending on whether greenhouse gas emissions were sharply curbed or continued apace. Somehow it seemed the study’s name conjured only doom.
Not since an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs — along with at least half of all other beings on Earth — has life in the ocean been so at risk. Warming waters are cooking creatures in their own habitats. Many species are slowly suffocating as oxygen leaches out of the seas. Even populations that have managed to withstand the ravages of overfishing, pollution and habitat loss are struggling to survive amid accelerating climate change.