Magazine article USA TODAY

Extreme Climate Change Sped Process

Magazine article USA TODAY

Extreme Climate Change Sped Process

Article excerpt

Evidence linking early animal evolution to extreme climate change has been uncovered by an international team of scientists. A dramatic rise in atmospheric oxygen levels long has been speculated as the trigger for early animal evolution, but direct evidence has proven elusive to scientists. However, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas-led research team for the first time offers evidence of a causal link between trends in early biological diversity and shifts in Earth system processes.

The fossil record shows a marked increase in animal and algae fossils roughly 635,000,000 years ago. An analysis of organic-rich rocks from Soufo China points to a sudden spike in oceanic oxygen levels at this time --in the wake of severe glaciation--allowing animal life to flourish. The new evidence pre-dates previous estimates of a life-sustaining oxygenation event by more than 50,000,000 years.

"For more than three-quarters of the Earth's history, the oxygen level in the atmosphere and ocean was insufficient to support animal life," points out lead author Swapan Sahoo, a Ph.D. student in the Geoscience Department. "Our findings support a link among glaciation, oxygenation of surface environments, and the diversification of animals. …

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