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Methane-producing bacteria may have leverage nickel from volcanism to flood the atmosphere with methane

It was called "The Great Dying".

I. A Time of Death and Desolation

If that title sounds dire it is because it was indeed a grim time for life on Earth.  Occurring about 252 and one-third million years ago, the mass extinction came at a time when life on Earth had become fairly advanced.  Terrestrial life consisted of a rich mix of large amphibians (think huge cousins of today's salamanders) and scaly reptilian dinosaur predecessors.  The seas teemed with life.

Then some sort of cataclysm swept the globe.  Ninety-six out of every one-hundred marine species (96%) went exinct, while seventy out of every one-hundred terrestrial vertebrate species (70%) also bit the metaphorical dust.  The exinction to this day remains the most severe mass extinction in Earth's history and what is believed to be the only mass extinction to feature a major extinction of insects -- traditionally among the Earth's most hardy species.

So what caused this severe event?

Permian skull
[Image Source: Climate Sight]

In line with all the hype and fervor surrounding global warming, some past researchers have suggested climate change may have played a role.  Criticism of this hypothesis has traditionally been that it's improper to assume the markers of climate change -- atmospheric and ocean carbon levels -- as causing ecological changes, when ecological changes can also cause climate change.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Daniel Rothman has become the latest researcher to throw his hat in the paleontological ring, offering up an interesting alternate hypothesis of how such a catastrophic climate change incident may have been triggered, leading to the Earth losing so much biodiversity.

The Great Dying marked the edge of the Permian.  Its end ushered in a new era -- the Triassic -- which would become the first of three major historical eras when the land-masses were ruled by large reptiles (dinosaurs).

To look for clues as to what caused The Great Dying, Professor Rothman dug back into sediments from the end of the Permian era.  Examing deposits in China, he found something intriguing.

Carbon levels in the sediment indeed appeared to rise quickly.  But the interesting part is that they rose so quickly that he feels that the sedimentary analysis rules out change by slower-acting forms of carbon release, such as volcanoes.

He also observed that oceanic nickel levels spiked 251 million years ago, as volcanoes in Siberia dumped tons of molten nickel into the sea.

II. What Caused Carbon Levels to Spike? 

Nickel is a ubiquitous catalyst in certain kinds of biochemical reactions.  Microorganisms, such as the ocean-based methane-producing bacterium methanosarcina, often use the metal to speed up reactions that produce carbon waste byproducts.

Thus Professor Rothman suggests that methanosarcina likely exploited the rising nickel levels to transform carbon dioxide and hydrogen into methane.  

In fact, Professor Rothman believes that methanosarcina fortuitously acquired the its triple metal-catalyzed methane-producing metabolic pathways about 251 million years ago, just as the nickel levels spiked.

Methanosarcina
Methanosarcina, pictured in an electron micrograph. [Image Source: KRLE]

The loss of atmospheric carbon dioxide would likely have twin adverse impacts -- first as plants require carbon dioxide to produce sugars, there likely would be mass loss of foliage globally; second as methane is a more potent warming gas than carbon dioxide, temperatures likely would have spiked globally.

The researcher's hypothesis was set forth on Dec. 4 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.  The meeting was held in San Francisco, Calif. at the Moscone Convention Center.

If he is correct it suggests that methanosarcina could be the most diabolical murderer in history, by far eclipsing mankind's worst impact in terms of speciation.

Not all experts are convinced.  Anthony Cohen, a researcher at the Open University in the United Kingdom, comments, '"[For the hypothesis to be correct] there are a lot of assumptions you have to make."

Sources: Live Science, AGU Meeting Schedule



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RE: Hmm
By bupkus on 12/19/2012 9:14:32 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
humanity requires the moral compass that the protestant Christian religion brings.
At the exclusion of all other religions? That will surely bring us all together in peace.


RE: Hmm
By MartyLK on 12/19/2012 12:59:44 PM , Rating: 1
Yeah. Unless they advocate peace at the very heart of their religion as the protestant Christian religion does. One such religion advocates slaughter and mass-murder - in the name of future peace, that is.

There are a lot of smaller religions that advocate chaotic and self-absorbed lifestyles.

The protestant Christian religion advocates fear and submission to God. It causes followers to put all others and God before self. Now before anyone goes into a tizzy, I didn't say all followers do this. Just that the religion teaches this, and some do follow it.

All those buck-toothed, half-brain-celled incest-produced people in certain parts of the US and throughout the world? The ones who can't wait to rape their sisters and mothers (and brothers and fathers, in some cases). The only thing holding some of them back and in some form of control is the fear of God - Hell & fire-damnation preaching.

The other religions, religions of the sword, for instance, advocate, wiping the face of the Earth of the infidels. Yeah, that's a fairy tale religion, for sure! ;)


RE: Hmm
By xthetenth on 12/19/2012 1:29:54 PM , Rating: 3
Well that explains why the US, where Protestantism is widespread has such a low crime rate.

Oh wait, having 1% of your population in jail is preposterously high? Whoops.


RE: Hmm
By MartyLK on 12/19/12, Rating: 0
RE: Hmm
By RufusM on 12/21/2012 10:44:30 AM , Rating: 2
The presupposition that Protestants have a better moral compass than Buddhists, Taoism and many, many other religions out there is way off base. Protestants do not have a monopoly on morality; no one religion does.

We need broad philosophical agreements of inherent individual rights. Most religions obscure that by mandating one belief is supreme over another. When people blindly follow those belief mandates it becomes a recipe for disaster.

For Protestants, in particular, there are so many contradictions in the ancient writings it basically comes down to someone's interpretation of them. For example, from interpretations of the same writings, one Protestant group accepts the death penalty while another rejects it.


RE: Hmm
By Florinator on 12/21/2012 4:57:58 PM , Rating: 2
Of course... every study on this subject out there shows that the more secular countries are far better off than the religious ones; higher standards of living, higher quality of life, happier citizens, less crime, less social issues (such as drug use, teen pregnancies, etc)


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