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The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life

The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life

Population sizes of vertebrate species -- mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish -- have declined by 52 percent over the last 40 years. in other words, those populations around the globe have dropped by more than half in fewer than two human generations. -- World Wildlife Fund Living Planet report 2014

This book straddles an awkward boundary between being a colorful popular work and a scientific literature review.... Profusely and beautifully illustrated with figures, maps, charts, and period reconstructions. Recommended. -- Choice

A good introduction to the great puzzle that is extinction study. -- Publishers Weekly

Selected by the Scientific American Book Club and now a more affordable paperback for a far-wider audience.

For more than a century scientists have tried to identify and understand the precise processes responsible for species extinction. Solving the species extinction puzzle has become even more important, even urgent, as human populations and technologies rival sea-level change, volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts as an extinction mechanism.

The Great Extinctions explores the search for an understanding of Earth's five great extinction events and whether the sixth is upon us already. Leading paleontologist Norman MacLeod examines the controversies and conclusions and what they mean to the efforts to preserve Earth's biodiversity.

He also reveals how, contrary to popular conception, species extinction is as natural a process as species evolution. Examining extinction over geological time, he compares ancient extinction events and uses them to predict future extinctions.

Featuring the latest scientific evidence on the subject and informative illustrations and diagrams, The Great Extinctions is an easy-to-understand presentation of a complex and controversial subject.

About the Author

Norman MacLeod is Keeper of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London. He studies the origin and maintenance of form in fossil and modern organisms using mathematical models of shape variation. He also creates new mathematical tools for studying plant and animal form and develops systems for automating the identification of species.

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Firefly Books; First Edition edition (January 29, 2015)

When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time

When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time

"The focus is the most severe mass extinction known in earth's history….The science on which the book is based is up-to-date, thorough, and balanced. Highly recommended." —Choice

Today it is common knowledge that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite impact 65 million years ago that killed half of all species then living. Far less known is a much greater catastrophe that took place at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago: ninety percent of life was destroyed, including saber-toothed reptiles and their rhinoceros-sized prey on land, as well as vast numbers of fish and other species in the sea.

This book documents not only what happened during this gigantic mass extinction but also the recent rekindling of the idea of catastrophism. Was the end-Permian event caused by the impact of a huge meteorite or comet, or by prolonged volcanic eruption in Siberia? The evidence has been accumulating through the 1990s and into the new millennium, and Michael Benton gives his verdict at the end of the volume.

From field camps in Greenland and Russia to the laboratory bench, When Life Nearly Died involves geologists, paleontologists, environmental modelers, geochemists, astronomers, and experts on biodiversity and conservation. Their working methods are vividly described and explained, and the current disputes are revealed. The implications of our understanding of crises in the past for the current biodiversity crisis are also presented in detail. 46 illustrations.

About the Author

Michael Benton is Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology and Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. He has written over forty books, many of them standard technical works and textbooks, as well as popular books about dinosaurs and the history of life.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (September 1, 2005)

The Permian Extinction and the Tethys: An Exercise in Global Geology (Geological Society of America Special Paper) The Permian Extinction and the Tethys: An Exercise in Global Geology (Geological Society of America Special Paper)

The Permian Extinction and the Tethys: An Exercise in Global Geology (Geological Society of America Special Paper) The Permian Extinction and the Tethys: An Exercise in Global Geology

The extinction that wiped out 95% of the living species at the end of the Paleozoic era can be explained by the fact that when it happened, all landmasses were one continent, Pangea, with an inner ocean, the Paleo-Tethys. This ocean included the richest niches in the late Permian world and the extinctions occurred within and around it. Data from the rest of the world indicate that the extinction happened there only where it was polluted by Paleo-Tethyan spills. This book documents this history and shows that the Permian extinction was due to the global geography of the time.

Series: Geological Society of America Special Paper
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Geological Society of Amer (March 15, 2009)

The Urantia Book The Urantia Book
The Urantia Book The Urantia Book

Love

Love is truly contagious and eternally creative. (p. 2018) “Devote your life to proving that love is the greatest thing in the world.” (p. 2047) “Love is the ancestor of all spiritual goodness, the essence of the true and the beautiful.” (p. 2047) The Father’s love can become real to mortal man only by passing through that man’s personality as he in turn bestows this love upon his fellows. (p. 1289) The secret of a better civilization is bound up in the Master’s teachings of the brotherhood of man, the good will of love and mutual trust. (p. 2065)

Prayer

Prayer is not a technique of escape from conflict but rather a stimulus to growth in the very face of conflict. (p. 1002) The sincerity of any prayer is the assurance of its being heard. … (p. 1639) God answers man’s prayer by giving him an increased revelation of truth, an enhanced appreciation of beauty, and an augmented concept of goodness. (p. 1002) …Never forget that the sincere prayer of faith is a mighty force for the promotion of personal happiness, individual self-control, social harmony, moral progress, and spiritual attainment. (p. 999)

Suffering

There is a great and glorious purpose in the march of the universes through space. All of your mortal struggling is not in vain. (p. 364) Mortals only learn wisdom by experiencing tribulation. (p. 556)

Angels

The angels of all orders are distinct personalities and are highly individualized. (p. 285) Angels....are fully cognizant of your moral struggles and spiritual difficulties. They love human beings, and only good can result from your efforts to understand and love them. (p. 419)

Our Divine Destiny

If you are a willing learner, if you want to attain spirit levels and reach divine heights, if you sincerely desire to reach the eternal goal, then the divine Spirit will gently and lovingly lead you along the pathway of sonship and spiritual progress. (p. 381) …They who know that God is enthroned in the human heart are destined to become like him—immortal. (p. 1449) God is not only the determiner of destiny; he is man’s eternal destination. (p. 67)

Family

Almost everything of lasting value in civilization has its roots in the family. (p. 765) The family is man’s greatest purely human achievement. ... (p. 939)

Faith

…Faith will expand the mind, ennoble the soul, reinforce the personality, augment the happiness, deepen the spirit perception, and enhance the power to love and be loved. (p. 1766) “Now, mistake not, my Father will ever respond to the faintest flicker of faith.” (p. 1733)

History/Science

The story of man’s ascent from seaweed to the lordship of earthly creation is indeed a romance of biologic struggle and mind survival. (p. 731) 2,500,000,000 years ago… Urantia was a well developed sphere about one tenth its present mass. … (p. 658) 1,000,000,000 years ago is the date of the actual beginning of Urantia [Earth] history. (p. 660) 450,000,000 years ago the transition from vegetable to animal life occurred. (p. 669) From the year A.D. 1934 back to the birth of the first two human beings is just 993,419 years. (p. 707) About five hundred thousand years ago…there were almost one-half billion primitive human beings on earth. … (p. 741) Adam and Eve arrived on Urantia, from the year A.D. 1934, 37,848 years ago. (p. 828)

From the Inside Flap

What’s Inside?

Parts I and II

God, the inhabited universes, life after death, angels and other beings, the war in heaven.

Part III

The history of the world, science and evolution, Adam and Eve, development of civilization, marriage and family, personal spiritual growth.

Part IV

The life and teachings of Jesus including the missing years. AND MUCH MORE…

Excerpts

God, …God is the source and destiny of all that is good and beautiful and true. (p. 1431) If you truly want to find God, that desire is in itself evidence that you have already found him. (p. 1440) When man goes in partnership with God, great things may, and do, happen. (p. 1467)

The Origin of Human Life, The universe is not an accident... (p. 53) The universe of universes is the work of God and the dwelling place of his diverse creatures. (p. 21) The evolutionary planets are the spheres of human origin…Urantia [Earth] is your starting point. … (p. 1225) In God, man lives, moves, and has his being. (p. 22)

The Purpose of Life, There is in the mind of God a plan which embraces every creature of all his vast domains, and this plan is an eternal purpose of boundless opportunity, unlimited progress, and endless life. (p. 365) This new gospel of the kingdom… presents a new and exalted goal of destiny, a supreme life purpose. (p. 1778)

Jesus, The religion of Jesus is the most dynamic influence ever to activate the human race. (p. 1091) What an awakening the world would experience if it could only see Jesus as he really lived on earth and know, firsthand, his life-giving teachings! (p. 2083)

Science, Science, guided by wisdom, may become man’s great social liberator. (p. 909) Mortal man is not an evolutionary accident. There is a precise system, a universal law, which determines the unfolding of the planetary life plan on the spheres of space. (p. 560)

Life after Death, God’s love is universal… He is “not willing that any should perish.” (p. 39) Your short sojourn on Urantia [Earth]…is only a single link, the very first in the long chain that is to stretch across universes and through the eternal ages. (p. 435) …Death is only the beginning of an endless career of adventure, an everlasting life of anticipation, an eternal voyage of discovery. (p. 159)

About the Author

The text of The Urantia Book was provided by one or more anonymous contributors working with a small staff which provided editorial and administrative support during the book's creation. The book bears no particular credentials (from a human viewpoint), relying instead on the power and beauty of the writing itself to persuade the reader of its authenticity.

Leather Bound: 2097 pages
Publisher: Urantia Foundation; Box Lea edition (August 25, 2015)

Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History

Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History

Millions of years before dinosaurs, gorgons roamed the earth. Like a creature out of Greek mythology, the gorgon was a lizard the size of a lion, with a huge head, razor-sharp teeth, reptilian eyes, a long, slashing tail and, perhaps, mammalian hair along with its reptilian scales. Then, almost in an instant, at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago, the gorgons were gone, along with most other major land and maritime species, both plants and animals. The Permian extinction was greater than the catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs. Paleontologist Ward (Rare Earth; The End of Evolution; etc.) recounts in this memoir his decade-long search in South Africa's Karoo Desert for clues to the cause of this extinction. By studying the fossil record in the Karoo, Ward concluded, contrary to accepted belief, that the extinction took place simultaneously on land and in the sea, rather than in two stages, and that the gorgon was in essence asphyxiated by a decrease of oxygen in the atmosphere, caused by a series of catastrophes that began with the dropping of sea levels. Some readers may wish Ward had cut to the chase and arrived at his conclusions a chapter or two sooner and focused less on elements of personal memoir, but young people aspiring to be the next Indiana Jones will learn from this realistic account of the quotidian details and battles of fieldwork. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st edition (January 19, 2004)

The Great Paleozoic Crisis The Great Paleozoic Crisis

The Great Paleozoic Crisis The Great Paleozoic Crisis

Carefully examines the events recorded at the major Permo-Triassic boundary sections and documents the patterns of extinction and survival among the major groups of marine and terrestrial plants and animals. Erwin also provides a detailed summary of the climatic, geologic, geophysical and geochemical events of the Late Permian and Early Triassic.

Series: The Critical Moments and Perspectives in Earth History and Paleobiology
Paperback: 327 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press; Reprint edition (April 15, 1993)

Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago

Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago

Some 250 million years ago, the earth suffered the greatest biological crisis in its history. Around 95% of all living species died out--a global catastrophe far greater than the dinosaurs' demise 65 million years ago. How this happened remains a mystery. But there are many competing theories. Some blame huge volcanic eruptions that covered an area as large as the continental United States; others argue for sudden changes in ocean levels and chemistry, including burps of methane gas; and still others cite the impact of an extraterrestrial object, similar to what caused the dinosaurs' extinction.

Extinction is a paleontological mystery story. Here, the world's foremost authority on the subject provides a fascinating overview of the evidence for and against a whole host of hypotheses concerning this cataclysmic event that unfolded at the end of the Permian.

After setting the scene, Erwin introduces the suite of possible perpetrators and the types of evidence paleontologists seek. He then unveils the actual evidence--moving from China, where much of the best evidence is found; to a look at extinction in the oceans; to the extraordinary fossil animals of the Karoo Desert of South Africa. Erwin reviews the evidence for each of the hypotheses before presenting his own view of what happened.

Although full recovery took tens of millions of years, this most massive of mass extinctions was a powerful creative force, setting the stage for the development of the world as we know it today.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 21, 2008)


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The Great Dying

Author: Patrick L. Barry
January 28, 2002

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250 million years ago something unknown wiped out most life on our planet. Now scientists are finding buried clues to the mystery inside tiny capsules of cosmic gas.


permian period
Artist's impression of a Lower Permian swamp in Texas
Artist's impression of a
Lower Permian swamp in Texas

It was almost the perfect crime.

Some perpetrator -- or perpetrators -- committed murder on a scale unequaled in the history of the world. They left few clues to their identity, and they buried all the evidence under layers and layers of earth.

The case has gone unsolved for years -- 250 million years, that is.

But now the pieces are starting to come together, thanks to a team of NASA-funded sleuths who have found the "fingerprints" of the villain, or at least of one of the accomplices


Above:  Life was flourishing on the Earth about 250 million years ago, then during a brief window of geologic time nearly all of it was wiped out. This image is an artist's impression of a Lower Permian swamp in Texas.

The terrible event had been lost in the amnesia of time for eons. It was only recently that paleontologists, like hikers stumbling upon an unmarked grave in the woods, noticed a startling pattern in the fossil record: Below a certain point in the accumulated layers of earth, the rock shows signs of an ancient world teeming with life. In more recent layers just above that point, signs of life  all but vanish.

Somehow, most of the life on Earth perished in a brief moment of geologic time roughly 250 million years ago. Scientists call it the Permian-Triassic extinction or "the Great Dying" -- not to be confused with the better-known Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that signaled the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Whatever happened during the Permian-Triassic period was much worse: No class of life was spared from the devastation. Trees, plants, lizards, proto-mammals, insects, fish, mollusks, and microbes -- all were nearly wiped out. Roughly 9 in 10 marine species and 7 in 10 land species vanished. Life on our planet almost came to an end.

Scientists have suggested many possible causes for the Great Dying: severe volcanism, a nearby supernova, environmental changes wrought by the formation of a super-continent, the devastating impact of a large asteroid -- or some combination of these. Proving which theory is correct has been difficult. The trail has grown cold over the last quarter billion years; much of the evidence has been destroyed.

Volcano fire

Left: The Earth was engulfed in widespread volcanism at the time of the extinction. Photo courtesy Dick Rasp/National Park Service.

"These rocks have been through a lot, geologically speaking, and a lot of times they don't preserve the (extinction) boundary very well," says Luann Becker, a geologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Indeed, there are few 250 million-year-old rocks left on Earth. Most have been recycled by our planet's tectonic activity.

Undaunted, Becker led a NASA-funded science team to sites in Hungary, Japan and China where such rocks still exist and have been exposed. There they found telltale signs of a collision between our planet and an asteroid 6 to 12 km across -- in other words, as big or bigger than Mt. Everest.

Many paleontologists have been skeptical of the theory that an asteroid caused the extinction. Early studies of the fossil record suggested that the die-out happened gradually over millions of years -- not suddenly like an impact event. But as their methods for dating the disappearance of species has improved, estimates of its duration have shrunk from millions of years to between 8,000 and 100,000 years. That's a blink of the eye in geological terms.

"I think paleontologists are now coming full circle and leading the way, saying that the extinction was extremely abrupt," Becker notes. "Life vanished quickly on the scale of geologic time, and it takes something catastrophic to do that."

Such evidence is merely circumstantial -- it doesn't actually prove anything. Becker's evidence, however, is more direct and persuasive:


Buckyball

Deep inside Permian-Triassic rocks, Becker's team found soccer ball-shaped molecules called "fullerenes" (or "buckyballs") with traces of helium and argon gas trapped inside. The fullerenes held an unusual number of 3He and 36Ar atoms -- isotopes that are more common in space than on Earth. Something, like a comet or an asteroid, must have brought the fullerenes to our planet.

Above:  The carbon atoms in a fullerene molecule are arranged in a spherical pattern similar to a geodesic dome. (Geodesic domes were invented by Buckminster Fuller, hence the name of the molecules.) This shape allows the fullerenes to trap gases inside. Image courtesy Luann Becker.

Becker's team had previously found such gas-bearing buckyballs in rock layers associated with two known impact events: the 65 million-year-old Cretaceous-Tertiary impact and the 1.8 billion-year-old Sudbury impact crater in Ontario, Canada. They also found fullerenes containing similar gases in some meteorites. Taken together, these clues make a compelling case that a space rock struck the Earth at the time of the Great Dying.

But was an asteroid the killer, or merely an accomplice?

Many scientists believe that life was already struggling when the putative space rock arrived. Our planet was in the throes of severe volcanism. In a region that is now called Siberia,  1.5 million cubic kilometers of lava flowed from an awesome fissure in the crust. (For comparison, Mt. St. Helens unleashed about one cubic kilometer of lava in 1980.) Such an eruption would have scorched vast expanses of land, clouded the atmosphere with dust, and released climate-altering greenhouse gases.

Late Permian 255 Ma
Late Permian 255 Ma
Late Permian 255 Ma

Above: What the world looked like 250 million years ago. Image credit:  Chris Scotese. [ more]

World geography was also changing then. Plate tectonics pushed the continents together to form the super-continent Pangea and the super-ocean Panthalassa. Weather patterns and ocean currents shifted, many coastlines and their shallow marine ecosystems vanished, sea levels dropped.

"If life suddenly has all these different things happen to it," Becker says, "and then you slam it with a rock the size of Mt. Everest -- boy! That's just really bad luck."

Was the "crime" then merely an accident? Perhaps so. Nevertheless, it's wise to identify the suspects -- an ongoing process -- before it happens again.

Editor's note: Becker's colleagues include Robert Poreda and Andrew Hunt from the University of Rochester, NY; Ted Bunch of the NASA Ames Research Center; and Michael Rampino of New York University and NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Sciences. Funding for the research was provided by NASA's Astrobiology and Cosmochemistry programs and the National Science Foundation.


Credits & Contacts
Author:  Patrick L. Barry
Responsible NASA official:  John M. Horack
Production Editor:  Dr. Tony Phillips
Curator:  Bryan Walls
Media Relations:  Steve Roy

The Science and Technology Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center sponsors the Science@NASA web sites. The mission of Science@NASA is to help the public understand how exciting NASA research is and to help NASA scientists fulfill their outreach responsibilities.


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Disclaimer

Disclaimer:
Some material presented will contain links, quotes, ideologies, etc., the contents of which should be understood to first, in their whole, reflect the views or opinions of their editors, and second, are used in my personal research as "fair use" sources only, and not espousement one way or the other. Researching for 'truth' leads one all over the place...a piece here, a piece there. As a researcher, I hunt, gather and disassemble resources, trying to put all the pieces into a coherent and logical whole. I encourage you to do the same. And please remember, these pages are only my effort to collect all the pieces I can find and see if they properly fit into the 'reality aggregate'.

Personal Position

Personal Position:
I've come to realize that 'truth' boils down to what we 'believe' the facts we've gathered point to. We only 'know' what we've 'experienced' firsthand. Everything else - what we read, what we watch, what we hear - is what someone else's gathered facts point to and 'they' 'believe' is 'truth', so that 'truth' seems to change in direct proportion to newly gathered facts divided by applied plausibility. Though I believe there is 'truth', until someone celestial who 'knows' all the facts parts the heavens and throws us a scroll titled "Here Are ALL The Facts And Lies In The Order They Happened," I can't know for sure exactly what "the whole truth' on any given subject is, and what applies to me applies to everyone.
~Gail Bird Allen

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