3 New Papers: Permian Mass Extinction Coincided With Global Cooling, Falling Sea Levels, And Low CO2

In the past it has been widely reported that high and abruptly changing CO2 concentrations during the Permian led to climate conditions that were “too hot for complex life to survive” on the planet.  Today, scientists have determined that the opposite may be true: the Permian mass extinction event occurred during a period of global cooling, expansive ice sheet growth, relatively low CO2 levels, and a marine-habitat-destroying sea level drop of 100 meters.

Image Source: Kani et al., 2018

A year ago, the press release for a paper published in Scientific Reports argued that during the Permian mass extinction event, “the majority of marine species” were killed off by an “extreme cold” period that coincided with widespread glaciation and a dramatic drop in global sea levels.

“Analysis of the newly dated layers showed a significant reduction of seawater levels during the [Permian] extinction event. The only explanation for such a dramatic decrease in water levels is a sudden increase in ice. The ice age lasted just 80,000 years, but the extreme cold was enough to kill off the majority of marine species.”

Within the last few months, at least two more papers have been published that also affirm that the Permian mass extinction event that annihilated up to 90% of marine species and 70% of land-dwelling species coincided with extreme global cooling, ice sheet expansion over land, and dramatically-falling sea levels — 100 meters lower than they were in previously warmer climates.

The lowering of sea levels alone may have been enough to destroy a substantial percentage of marine habitats, and the expansion of ice sheets may have austerely limited the habitat ranges for land-dwelling fauna.

CO2 Concentrations And Mass Extinctions: A Questionable Link  

Further analysis reveals that, contrary to commonly popularized claims, neither the Ordovician mass extinction event nor the Permian mass extinction event had a clear causal link to atmospheric CO2 concentrations.  Indeed, it has long been documented that CO2 concentrations may have fluctuated between about 280 ppm and 2800 ppm during the Permian, with the low CO2 values coinciding with cool periods and the high values coinciding with warm periods (Saunders and Reichow, 2009).

While both extinction events occurred during global cooling periods accompanied by significantly lowered sea levels, the CO2 concentrations were relatively high (“over 2000 ppm”) during the Ordovician but relatively low (~300 ppm) during the Permian extinction event.   The latter CO2 values would appear to undermine the contention that CO2-driven ocean “acidification” and too-high CO2 concentration levels were causally connected to the extinction of marine species during the Permian.  And the relatively high CO2 values during the Ordovician are not compatible with the accompanying global cooling, glaciation, and plummeting sea levels of that period.

In sum, a growing body of evidence suggests that commonly-held assumptions about a direct causal link  between CO2 concentration flux and mass extinction events may not be as clear as previously thought.

Isozaki and Servais, 2018   (full paper)

The Hirnantian (Late Ordovician) and end-Guadalupian
(Middle Permian) mass-extinction events compared

“Besides the similarity in extinction patterns with the preferential elimination of particular clades, we can recognize a major resemblance but of non-biotic nature between the [Ordovician] Hirnantian and [Permian] Capitanian [mass extinction] events, that is the significant cooling coupled with global sea-level drop.”
A sea-level drop of nearly 100 m can be achieved solely by transferring vast seawater onto land in the form of ice. It is noteworthy that sea level was much higher in the Late Ordovician (ca. 60 m above the present-day level) than in the Middle Permian (ca. 80 m below the present-day level), even after the sea-level drop in the same magnitude.”
The lines of evidence for cooling and relevant sealevel drop during the Hirnantian [Ordovician] are listed as follows: (1) sequence stratigraphy (Haq & Schutter 2008; Fig. 2); (2) regional occurrence of glacial sediments, including tillite/dropstone, mostly in Gondwana (e.g. Brenchley et al. 1994; Ghienne 2003); and (3) isotope signature in seawater (Trotter et al. 2008). On the basis of these, there was a solid consensus among researchers for the link between the global cooling and the first Hirnantian extinction; however, recent studies indicate that the cooling may have started not necessarily at the beginning of the Hirnantian but much earlier, probably already in the Middle Ordovician (Vandenbroucke et al. 2010; Finnegan et al. 2011; Nardin et al. 2011; Rasmussen et al. 2016). Nevertheless, sea level dropped nearly 100 m in the Hirnantian (e.g. Haq & Schutter 2008). Traditionally, the existence of a continental block (Gondwana) over the South Pole was required for the development of ice sheets.”

The evidence for the late Capitanian global sealevel drop (for up to 100 m) is robust. … The sharp erosion of reef limestone in low-latitude mid-ocean implies a large eustatic sea-level drop, in other words, the appearance of a global cooling. … The biotic responses in the Hirnantian and Capitanian appear compliant with all these lines of evidence for cooling, in particular, the latitudinal contraction of faunal distributions towards tropics together with the preferential elimination of preexisting tropical fauna. Regardless of the second Hirnantian episode, the first decline in biodiversity in both cases occurred during global cooling. In general, a relative drop in seawater temperature, particularly in shallow seas, is critical for the metabolism of almost all contemporary marine organisms. The updated lines of evidence therefore confirmed the classic notion of a putative link between the global cooling and extinction (e.g. Stanley 1988) for both cases [Ordovician and Permian mass extinction events].”
“[T]he atmospheric CO2 decreased significantly from over 2000 ppm in the Late Ordovician down to ca. 300 ppm during the Middle Permian, almost close to the present level (Royer et al. 2014).”

Kani et al., 2018

Middle Permian (Capitanian) seawater 87 Sr/ 86 Sr minimum
coincided with disappearance of tropical biota and reef
collapse in NE Japan and Primorye (Far East Russia)

The end-Middle Permian extinction was in fact a prolonged but gradual decrease in diversity from the Wordian to the end of the Capitanian (Clapham et al., 2009). The main phase of the extinction appears to have occurred almost simultaneously during the Capitanian minimum of Sr isotope records.  The present study on Sr isotopes eventually confirms that the carbonate deposition declined and consequently ceased during the interval called the “Capitanian minimum” with extremely low 87Sr/86Sr ratios below 0.7070, at least in the northern part of Greater South China.”
“These studies confirmed that unusually the low 87Sr/86Sr ratio in seawater (as low as 0.7068) persisted throughout the Capitanian Stage of the Guadalupian Series (the last one-third of the Guadalupian). This extremely low Sr isotope value naturally reflected a minimum flux from continental crust with respect to that from mid-oceanic ridges. For the cause of this unique phenomenon, a conventional explanation might prefer a high sea level under global warming, which can suppress the global total weathering/erosion as a result of concealing vast continental coastal zones. Nonetheless, the sea level during the Capitanian contradictorily recorded the lowest stand of the Phanerozoic (Haq and Schutter, 2008), suggesting a global cooling instead. Ice coverage and/or the predominance of arid climates under cooling during the Permian likely accelerated the decrease in the seawater Sr ratio.”

“In general, the termination of shallow marine carbonates may occur with a decrease in the seawater temperature. Two possible causes can be inferred for the late Capitanian temperature decrease, i.e., 1) the appearance of global cooling, and 2) the migration of depositional sites to higher latitudes with cooler climates.”
“The Capitanian global cooling was proposed first on the basis of the unique carbon isotope record in low-latitude paleo-atoll carbonates (12°S) (Isozaki et al., 2007), a signature that was reproduced later in other parts of the world, e.g., in Croatia and in South China (Isozaki et al., 2011; Chen and Benton, 2012). In addition, in a global summary of sequence stratigraphy (Haq and Schutter, 2008), the findings of coeval glacial deposits in eastern Australia and in Mongolia (Fielding et al., 2008; Fujimoto et al., 2012), the selective extinction of tropical fauna (Isozaki and Aljinovic, 2009), the migration of mid-latitude fauna to low latitudes (Shen and Shi, 2002), and the Milankovitch tuning (Fang et al., 2017), all support the onset of cooling in the Capitanian.”
[T]he Capitanian under a cooling trend […] [coincided with the] lowest sea level of the Phanerozoic and […] the preferential elimination of tropical fauna. … [T]he appearance of extensive ice coverage over continental blocks might have occurred, and the weathering/erosion of continental crust could have been suppressed to drive a lower riverine flux with high 87Sr/86Sr ratios. Alternatively, an arid weathering regime might have developed extensively under the cool climate, particularly on the vast supercontinent Pangea, which also contributed to suppressing the riverine fluxes (Korte et al., 2006).”

Arefifard, 2018

Sea level drop, palaeoenvironmental change and related biotic
responses across Guadalupian–Lopingian boundary
in southwest, North and Central Iran

“The Capitanian to Wuchiapingian deposits in Zagros (southwest Iran), Alborz (North Iran) and Central Iran display important information about the end-Guadalupian [Permian] extinction. The overall facies change in the G-L [Guadalupian–Lopingian] boundary intervals in the sections under study indicates a sea level drop around the G-LB [Guadalupian–Lopingian boundary, Permian extinction event] which was at its lowest level in the Ruteh section. The decline and elimination of shallow marine biota in the G-LB interval took place in two steps in the Zagros and Alborz sections and in one step in Central Iran. These are indicative of the appearance of the stressful environment during the late Capitanian shallowing trend before the G-LB. The sea level drop and regression in the late Capitanian can be considered the major causes of end-Guadalupian extinction in the Iranian sections, but in the Alborz area volcanic activity is another feasible cause of this crisis.”
“The sea level drop and regression as a cause for end-Guadalupian extinction have also been reported in the Middle to Late Permian deposits in the Kuh-e Gahkum section in Zagros (Kolodka et al. 2012). This sea level fall and regression is in concert with the Permian global eustatic curve (Haq & Schutter, 2008), which signifies the lowest sea level during the Palaeozoic at the end of the Capitanian. The cause of this sea level fall is unclear. Isozaki, Kawahata & Ota (2007), Isozaki, Aljinovic & Kawahata (2011) and Kofukuda, Isozaki & Igo (2014) have speculated that global cooling was a causal factor in the late Capitanian regression. The Capitanian high positive plateau interval of carbonate carbon isotope ratio (δ13Ccarb), known as the Kamura event, has been suggested as confirmation of this cooling event.”
“[T]he temporal coincidence of […] volcanism and Capitanian extinction is viable. This volcanism was deleterious to life, as the extinction event was remarkable among warm shallow water fauna such as fusulinids, foraminifers, corals and calcareous algae, which suggests the cooling resulted from volcanism. But it is evident that the extinction was not catastrophic only for low-latitude fauna. Highlatitude foraminifers and brachiopods also show important losses (Bond et al. 2010). As in the Ruteh Limestone, the deeper-water setting of this formation, especially in its Capitanian part, may have been associated with lower temperature implying the low occurrences of fusulinids.”

70 responses to “3 New Papers: Permian Mass Extinction Coincided With Global Cooling, Falling Sea Levels, And Low CO2”

  1. SebastianH

    Today, scientists have determined that the opposite may be true

    Or … it’s just another theory of what could have happened. But it sounds so good, right? Bias confirmed! No CO2 caused catastrophe, no ocean acidification ending marine life. Hurray!

    1. AndyG55

      We already KNOW that atmospheric CO2 has no warming effect, and no effect on ocean alkalinity. You have shown us that, with your total lack of any empirical proof.

      So yes.. for once you are correct , seb.

    2. Newminster

      OK. So it’s just another theory (‘hypothesis’ would be better) of what might have happened. So? Has anyone said it isn’t? Are you implying that when an alternative theory to the one you prefer, on about the same level of evidence, is proposed then we ought not to publish it because you don’t like it?

      Be careful how you answer that question. Assuming you have an answer.

      1. SebastianH

        Has anyone said it isn’t?

        The title of this blogpost is pretty assertive, don’t you think?

        on about the same level of evidence

        I am not sure about that when the competing theories all describe warming instead of cooling.

        we ought not to publish it because you don’t like it?

        Since you guys claim to be skeptical, you should at least display some skepticism towards anything like this that would completely negate what scientists thought has happened before. But I suspect you are desperate for anything that could be interpreted in a way that supports your views, so no skepticism towards something like this.

        1. AndyG55

          ZERO evidence seb continues with the ZERO-EVIDENCE meme. Just the mindless thought-bubble cis-troll games.

          ZERO-EVIDENCE is all he has left to rant with.

        2. tom0mason

          SebastianH 28. May 2018 at 5:47 PM

          As these papers go against your perception of ‘consensus science’, you appear to dismiss them for that alone. For skeptics however they appear to be good science and offering a credible explanation of the events back then. This skeptic does not think these papers offer ‘the whole truth’ because that, in this context, is unknowable. They do offer some good science and logical reasoned explanations for these historic events. What is criticism of them?

          You offer no credible criticism of these paper, just a very biased dismissal of them. You offer no thoughtful scientific critique of them, I doubt that you have indeed really read them. Your sole criticism is that people should not take them seriously but give no reason why, and thus it is you who largely appears to be the one operating with ‘conformation bias’. Indeed you sound exactly like the critics of the day who attacked Albert Einstein but offered no rational for why he may be wrong, they just recited the faulty science dogma of the day. Then like now, you appear to be just a sorry individual with nothing more than dogma and sanctimonious cant to offer, when reason, logic and science is required. You offer none of these, you criticism is empty, your criticism lacks rationality, it is just an emotional cry.

          Your reasonless emotional cry of “Bias confirmed!” is indeed very hypocritical as these papers challenge your dogma and you have no rational reply!

  2. Graeme No.3

    I have been preparing a talk for later this year about the end Permian extinction and have been struggling with the ‘official’ explanation, which appeared to be nonsense, unaware of the original paper let alone these 2. Now that SebastianH has rejected them I can use them in the talk with confidence.
    Thank you, Kenneth.

    1. SebastianH

      So it’s not only confirmation bias, but childish “whatever an opponent says must be wrong”. Skepticism at its finest …

      1. AndyG55

        Seb’s scientific emptymess, at its ignorant, arrogant worst.

        You are well known as being chronically, belligerently and wilfully WRONG on basic everything.

        Only time you get something correct is by accident.

      2. AndyG55

        If seb doesn’t like what a paper says, then that paper has a far better than even chance of being somewhere near reality.

        seb lives in a brain-hosed anti-world, totally depleted of rational science and rational thought.

        1. SebastianH

          I’ll put that to the test. If you guys automatically like what I or other opponents don’t like, without being skeptical as you claim you are, then it should be easy to trick you. I suppose you have been tricked a lot by the resulting current confusion in the pseudoskeptic scene …

          1. AndyG55

            You really are turning into a [snip], seb.

            You have NOTHING to back up any of your mindless AGW cultism..

            And I’m pretty sure you KNOW that, and are just stuck in a very LONELY existence, where any attention you can get is good attention.

            All the confusion is in AGW cultism, the story just keeps changing…

            … no wonder you can’t keep up.

            … no wonder you have to just “make-believe”.

            Incoherent non-cognitive dissonance has always been the main content of your fantasy posts.

          2. AndyG55

            “I’ll put that to the test.”

            What.. seb typing something based on REALITY, and backing it with real science.

            That will be great fun to see.

            He might even accidentally get something correct again. !!

          3. SebastianH

            It was sarcasm. Wow.

            Are you able to recognize that now? Congratulations!

            It takes a special brand of hubris to think this was anything other than a tongue-in-cheek comment.

            Apparently, you don’t understand when someone is joking … might be the language barrier again. Hmm.

          4. AndyG55

            Don’t worry, seb

            Even though you pretend to be very serious ,and actually seem to believe some of the monumental BS you regurgitate..

            .. we take EVERYTHING you say as NOTHING more than a JOKE. !

      3. tom0mason

        Thankfully the material and theory highlighted in these papers will stay or fall as scientific research advances, and not founder on the unreasonable opinion of SebastianH!

        1. SebastianH

          Someday you will understand that my comments are more about the interpretations of papers by you guys than the papers themselves. Of course, sometimes junk science gets posted too, but usually it really is just about the interpretations.

          So yes, whatever I write does not make or break scientific papers/findings (that is true for you guys too).

          1. Andyg55

            Some day you will understand that your comments are a load of mindless garbage.

            Your interpretations are based on zero-science mind-numbed brain-washing

            To see that, you would have to be HONEST to yourself.

            But honesty is NOT even a tiny part of you.

          2. SebastianH

            Again, the hubris to imagine that we actually thought that what you write makes or breaks scientific papers…

            It is tomOmason who wrote “these papers will […] not f[l]ounder on the unreasonable opinion of SebastianH!”

            Apparently he thinks that and is thankful that it’s not the case.

          3. AndyG55

            Certainly NOTHING you have offered is any counter to these papers.

            They are based on solid, logical science, and stand a whole heap more chance of being correct than anything you have put forward.

            That is the case with EVERYTHING you rant about.

            Everything you think you know is based on a very low knowledge of basically every facet of science, physics, chemistry, maths and REALITY.

            Its as though you exist totally in a cognitively dysfunctional FANTASY world.

          4. tom0mason


            Yet again I try to help you here — the word is founder
            a nautical term meaning to wreck, as in “the ship foundered on the rocks”
            However I know my skills at education is not so great, so my efforts with you will founder, crushed no doubt on the rock of your mighty superego.
            “Apparently he thinks that and is thankful that it’s not the case.”

            And once again you apparently imagine to know how and what I think —
            YOU DO NOT,
            so seb, stop supposing you do.
            Your overexcitable imagination appears to have constructed for you an entirely fake me (tom0mason), and like your imaginings about cAGW it is wrong! 😉

          5. tom0mason

            So seb
            You now say you never thought your judgment (or opinion) on the subject amounts to anything.

            Well, on that point I wholeheartedly agree.

  3. Steve Borodin


    I acknowledge that you are an expert in confirmation bias.

  4. Curious George

    Why should paleo-data be more reliable than modern data? Climatology (if this is climatology) has disgraced itself repeatedly.

  5. Bitter&twisted

    You might as well toss a coin to determine whether high, medium, or low [CO2] correlates with extinction events.
    For the cerebrally challenged this means there is no relationship.

  6. tom0mason

    James Hansen predicted that a great warming event caused such a die-off, so we know how much credence to put in that idea. None at all, as the vast majority of that blatherer of catastrophic climate change has been grossly wrong in all he has predicted.
    I wonder what he smokes? Probably the same stuff as Carl Sagan.

    Another alarmist report was from a pontificating ‘scientist’ of little merit called Guy McPherson a professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources and ecology at the University of Arizona. With this sort of baloney being taught, no wonder the understanding of science is as low as seb’s grasp of the subject. Guy McPherson should be ashamed of himself for coming out with such bowel moving bilge!


    Neither of them seem to understand that paleo-data, be it ice-core, tree-ring, mud-core, rock strata formations etc., does not tell you how the temperature or climate changes on a year to year, or even decade to decade basis but are samples of aggregated periods of time that are naturally averaged (by varying amounts) by the geology/climatology/biosphere about them. Thus it is very difficult (probably impossible) to accurately compare modern instrument data to that extracted from proxies as you do not know all the circumstances and rate of change at play (the world was a very different place back then) when the historic proxy data occurred.
    IMO historic climate data only after the closure of the isthmus of South America (around 2.8 million years ago) can be seen a relevant to today, as that is when the world’s geography — especially the ocean currents — started to be similar to now.

    However as seb rejects these papers so sneeringly, and, as usual, without any real scientific argument I shall have to look at them anew. Unlike J. Hansen’s efforts they probably have some true scientific merit.

  7. Darren Ferdinando

    Not wanting to burst anyone’s bubbles here, but speaking as a geologist these papers are relating an event in the Middle Permian (~259Ma) and not the huge mass extinction event that occurred at the Permo-Triassic boundary (~251Ma). The roughly 8 million years between these 2 events is significant.

    While I think the papers themselves are very interesting, we need to be careful we are discussing the correct geological events and not dragging a completely discrete and separate event (the Permo-Triassic extinction event) into the discussion. While this end Middle Permian event has a global signature, it is not on the same level as the event at the Permo-Triassic boundary that saw the end of 90% of the recorded species that had flourished until that point.

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  13. Steven Rowlandson

    Given the nature of the volcanic eruption and its duration it would be logical to assume that the type of volcanic gases emitted by the Siberian traps eruption would be similar to what we have at Hawaii today. The gases would be rich in SO2 instead of CO2 and would result in sulphuric acid aerosols that would cool the planet and damage the ecosystem with VOG and acid rain.

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