- Microbes belched out the methane 250 million years ago, claims study
- The huge amounts of methane altered the climate and chemistry of oceans
- The fumes spurted from the oceans wiped out 90 per cent of species
- Known as the 'Great Dying', event occurred at the end of the Permian era
|Skull of Dinogorgon rubidgei, which did not survive the Permian extintion|
The worst mass extinction in Earth's history - long before dinosaurs roamed the planet - was caused by microbes, according to a new study.
The tiny organisms suddenly began belching out the greenhouse gas methane - which isabout 20 per cent more potent than carbon dioxide - some 250 million years ago.
Fumes spurted from the oceans wiping out 90 per cent of all species, from snails and small crustaceans to early forms of lizards and amphibians in less than 20,000 years.
The 'Great Dying' occurred more than 252 million years ago - long before dinosaurs lived roamed Earth - at the end of Permian era.
In the past asteroids, volcanoes and raging coal fires have been blamed but the finger is now being pointed at tiny microbes called Methanosarcina (see image below).
|Methanosarcina is a singe-cell organism that produces methane.|
These spewed enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, dramatically altering the climate and the chemistry of the oceans.
Unable to adapt in time, countless species perished and vanished from the Earth.
Alarmingly, the same effects are starting to happen today as a result of global warming caused by carbon emissions.
Analysis of geological carbon deposits reveals a significant boost in levels of carbon-containing gases - either carbon dioxide or methane - at the time of the mass extinction.