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"Ecovery" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Researchers at the Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati have discovered why plants and animals had a hard time recovering from the largest mass extinction in Earth's history 250 million years ago.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

The Other Global Warming.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: volcanic eruptions) Early Triassic period, 250 million years ago, massive volcanic activity spews enough molten rock to cover millions of square miles. Enough greenhouse gases to dramatically increase the earth's temperature. Known as "the great dying," it chokes off seventy percent of all land vertebrates, ninety percent of marine species.

It took over five million years for species that did survive to fully recover. Researchers from Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati studied ancient sediments from this period, taken from a gorge in Iran and confirmed that the slow recovery was indeed due to something familiar to us: Global warming.

For five million years, carbon dioxide mixed with water to form acid rain, which eroded the rock filling the oceans with sediment. Oceans that were as warm as a modern hot tub, microbes thrived, everything else, not so much.

Though extreme, the team says we can learn from the period. That life doesn't just snap back. (Sound effect: ocean sounds) During current warming conditions, although the earth's oceans may only reach 80, carbon dioxide, acid rain and ocean acidification are already a problem for ocean life.

Say the scientists: After "the great dying," it was as if life had a five-million-year hangover. And, they say, looking at the past provides an important perspective about the future.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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