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Surprising Science

Ocean Acidity Blamed for Ancient Extinction

Scientists believe ocean acidification—which is the trend again today—may have played a big role in the Earth’s worst extinction crisis 250 million years ago.

What’s the Latest Development?

Earth experienced its most dramatic extinction crisis of all time 250 million years ago when about 90 percent of ocean-dwelling species and 70 percent of land-dwellers disappeared. What caused the massive die-off has long been debated but a new study suggests ocean acidification caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air may have played a major role. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The findings have potentially major implications for what we can expect to happen on Earth in the near future. As atmospheric CO2 levels rise in the coming decades and the oceans absorb the gas, which ends up making the water more acidic, we might be headed for another round of serious extinction events. Significant impacts from rising sea acidity are expected to soon be seen on clams, mussels and other shellfish, which are not as adept at adapting to pH changes as other organisms.


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