Magazine article Geographical

THE ENDS OF THE WORLD: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

Magazine article Geographical

THE ENDS OF THE WORLD: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

Article excerpt

THE ENDS OF THE WORLD

Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans and our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

by Peter Brannen

Oneworld * [pounds sterling]18.99 (hardback)

* Whatever their faults, dinosaurs have enjoyed good PR over the years, with the result that their extinction has overshadowed a number of similar Armageddon-type events--four, to be precise, occurring at staggered intervals over a mind-bendingly long period. One--the late Devonian--took between 20 and 25 million years to play out; further evidence, if it were required, that the story of planet Earth is not the story of homo sapiens.

While less special-effects driven than the extra-terrestrial impact that did for the dinosaurs, what all these apocalypses have in common is 'violent changes to the planet's carbon cycle'. In fact, says Peter Brannen, carbon dioxide-driven global warming 'is an experiment that the Earth has already run many times in the deep past' with results that it's worth taking note of.

As he assesses the various theories behind these different events, it becomes clear that life has always involved a race between extinction and speciation; if new species can evolve faster than extinction rates, then life wins. …

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