How, in the blink of a geological eye, life on Earth was almost obliterated...
What does it take to wipe out more than 90 per cent of all the life on Earth... and how long would it take to do it? It seems all you need are greenhouse gas-belching volcanoes and about 60,000 years
THROUGHOUT ITS 3.8bILLION-YEAR HISTORY, life on Earth has faced more than its fair share of challenges, set backs and catastrophes. Everything from ice ages to asteroids has been thrown at it and yet, somehow, life is more diverse today than it has ever been.
That’s not to say that life laughs in the face of adversity – it has been pushed to brink of annihilation several times in its long history (most famously by the asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs), but perhaps the closest life ever came to total obliteration was 251million years ago.
At the end of the Permian period, the Earth was visited by an environmental catastrophe so extreme that the land was left with just 30 per cent of its inhabitants still standing (or crawling, or growing roots) and the oceans were stripped of 96 per cent of its marine life. For more than 500,000 years, life itself was left teetering on the brink of oblivion and it would take millions of years to recover completely.