Triassic–Jurassic extinction event

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The Triassic–Jurassic extinction event marks the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic periods, 199.6 million years ago,[1] and is one of the major extinction events of the Phanerozoic eon, profoundly affecting life on land and in the oceans. A whole class (conodonts)[2], twenty percent of all marine families and all large crurotarsans (non-dinosaurian archosaurs), some remaining therapsids, and many of the large amphibians were wiped out. At least half of the species now known to have been living on Earth at that time went extinct. This event vacated ecological niches, allowing the dinosaurs to assume the dominant roles in the Jurassic period. This event happened in less than 10,000 years and occurred just before Pangaea started to break apart.

Statistical analysis of marine losses at this time suggests that the decrease in diversity was caused more by a decrease in speciation than by an increase in extinctions.[3]

Several explanations for this event have been suggested, but all have unanswered challenges:

  • Gradual climate change or sea-level fluctuations during the late Triassic. However, this does not explain the suddenness of the extinctions in the marine realm.
  • Asteroid impact, but no impact crater has been dated to coincide with the Triassic–Jurassic boundary (the impact responsible for the annular Manicouagan Reservoir occurred about 12 million years before the extinction event).
  • Massive volcanic eruptions, specifically the flood basalts of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP), would release carbon dioxide or sulfur dioxide and aerosols, which would cause either intense global warming (from the former) or cooling (from the latter).

The isotopic composition of fossil soils of end Triassic and Early Jurassic has been tied to a large negative carbon isotope excursion (Whiteside et al. 2010). Carbon isotopes of lipids (n-alkanes) derived from leaf wax and lignin, and total organic carbon from two sections of lake sediments interbedded with the CAMP in eastern North America have shown carbon isotope excursions similar to those found in the mostly marine St. Audrie’s Bay section in England; the correlation suggests that the end-Triassic extinction event began at the same time in marine and terrestrial environments, slightly before the oldest basalts in eastern North America but simultaneous with the eruption of the oldest flows in Morocco (Also suggested by Deenen et al., 2010), with both a critical CO2 greenhouse and a marine biocalcification crisis. Contemporaneous CAMP eruptions, mass extinction, and the carbon isotopic excursions are shown in the same places, making the case for a volcanic cause of a mass extinction. The catastrophic dissociation of gas hydrates (suggested as one possible cause of the largest mass extinction of all time, the so-called "Great Dying" at the end of the Permian Period) may have exacerbated greenhouse conditions.

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