Mass Extinction 2 Billion Years Ago Reportedly Killed 99% of Life on Earth

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Artist rendering of Earth two billion years ago (Credit: Chesley K. Bonestell)

It may have been bigger than the event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

A mineral found in Canada is taking centre stage in the science world. Thanks to the Canadian subarctic, researchers have been able to figure out just how much life on Earth was killed during a massive extinction that took place over 2 billion years ago. The findings wouldn't have been possible without Canada. 

A new study found that extreme changes in the atmosphere were responsible for almost 100 percent of life on Earth being killed more than 2 billion years ago. 

A sample of the mineral barite that is more than 2 billion years old from the subarctic of Belcher Islands in Hudson's Bay was used in the study. According to reasearchers, the barite locks in the chemical signatures which makes it easier for them to figure out what  the atmosphere was like when it was formed.

The mass extinction that the researchers looked at in their study was huge. 

"Even our most conservative estimates would exceed estimates for the amount of life that died off during the extinction of the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago," co-lead author of the study Malcolm Hodgskiss told CNN.

Micro-organisms living on Earth billions of years ago used up all of the nutrients needed to create oxygen and that made Earth's atmosphere unbalanced.

Because of this change in the atmosphere, a bunch of life on Earth was wiped out. The research shows that up to 99.5 percent of organisms on the planet were killed.

The drop off of life during what is called the Great Oxidation Event was known but there was never any certainty as to just how drastic that drop off was until now.

The mineral found in Canada played a huge role in figuring out that almost all of life was wiped off the planet. 

Researchers used the chemical measurements found in the barite and how much oxygen and carbon dioxide might have been in the atmosphere at that time based on past research to figure out how much life there was.

While this was all 2 billion years ago, Hodgskiss also told CNN that the findings are still relevant to our planet because Earth is still vulnerable to changes in the atmosphere.