EThere is no longer any doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to current climate change. The many drastic climatic fluctuations in the course of the earth’s history have so far not been associated with the burning of coal or oil in experts. A three-person international research group is now claiming that around 252 million years ago so many fossil fuels were burned in a short time that the resulting climate change led to the largest mass extinction of species in the history of the earth. The strong influence of carbon dioxide on the abrupt climate change at the time has been independently confirmed by another research group. The changes in the living world were so serious at that time that this caesura represents the transition from the ancient times to the Middle Ages for geologists.
In the last phase of the ancient world, in the Permian, the surface of the earth looked significantly different from today. More than a quarter of a billion years ago, almost all parts of the world were connected in a large land mass, the primary continent of Pangea. It extended almost continuously between the two poles. The other half of the world was covered by the giant ocean Panthalassa. The continent only began to break up in its center and gave rise to the Tethys Sea, the great-grandfather of the Mediterranean. In today’s Europe, the last phase of the Permian is known as Zechstein. The Zechstein Sea, a shallow ocean basin, extended into what is now the North German Plain and the North Sea. The large salt deposits in this area were created when this sea evaporated, leaving a thick crust of salt.
The marine fauna of the Permian was extremely diverse. Animals like plants in the rainforest lived on several floors on the sea floor. The trunks of various species of sea lily, the crinoids, were up to half a meter long. They formed the canopy of leaves for this benthic community. On the floors below there lived blastoids, various types of mussels and snails, as well as trilobites from the Cambrian. The “copper shale herring”, the first fossil find of which was described by the Saxon doctor Georgius Agricola in 1546, was particularly common in the shallow Permian seas. Overall, fossil finds from the Permian allow the conclusion that this epoch was extremely rich in animal and vegetable life.
The following age of the Triassic, especially its first ten million years, is extremely poor in fossils. In Central Europe, the young Triassic is known as the era of the red sandstone. The Palatinate Forest, Odenwald, Spessart and the island of Helgoland consist largely of the monotonous rocks of this time. Geologists have found a similarly dramatic impoverishment of species at the other transitions from the Permian to the Triassic in southern China, Kashmir, Pakistan, the southern Alps and in Greenland. A total of 90 percent of species of marine life and at least 70 percent of terrestrial species became extinct by the end of the Permian, including 21 of the 27 known families of reptiles and 70 percent of families of amphibians. About half of all insect species from the Permian did not survive the turning point.