Scientists Say They've Finally Found the Real Reason Dinosaurs Flourished—And It's Deadly
The extinction of the dinosaurs created an opportunity for mammals to take over the world, but a new study published in Nature Communications claims that a similar mass extinction event during the Carnian Period (about 232 million years ago) allowed the dinosaurs to flourish in the first place.
Ironically, it appears the mass extinction was caused by several devastating periods of global warming—apparently, history not only repeats itself; it has a sense of humor too.
The new study is based on two key observations of the fossil records, recorded a world apart: Fossilized footprints found in the rock of the Dolomite mountain range in Italy and fossilized skeletons in rock successions in Argentina and Brazil.
By dating the different strata of rock and looking at what fossils appear when, paleontologists are able to create a picture of when dinosaurs began to appear in earnest.
Based on the research in the Dolomites and South America, it appears that there was a marked increase in dinosaur populations around the Carnian Period in both areas, which suggests that the Carnian was the moment when dinos began taking over from their predecessors and diversifying into new species.
According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Massimo Bernardi: "We were excited to see that the footprints and skeletons told the same story. We had been studying the footprints in the Dolomites for some time, and it's amazing how clear-cut the change from 'no dinosaurs' to 'all dinosaurs' was."
So what caused the mass extinction event during the Carnian Period?
Apparently, volcanoes in Western Canada underwent a cataclysmic series of eruptions that spewed enough material into the air to cause periods of global warming and widespread acid rain.
According to Piero Gianolla, a co-author on the study: "We had detected evidence for the climate change in the Dolomites. There were four pulses of warming and climate perturbation, all within a million years or so. This must have led to repeated extinctions."
Hopefully, another advanced civilization isn't looking at human fossils and saying something similar about our species in the next few thousand years, when Earth has morphed into a greenhouse planet.