Massive and rapid predominantly volcanic CO2 emission during the end-Permian mass extinction

Ying Cui, Mingsong Li, Elsbeth E van Soelen, Francien Peterse, Wolfram M Kürschner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The end-Permian mass extinction event (∼252 Mya) is associated with one of the largest global carbon cycle perturbations in the Phanerozoic and is thought to be triggered by the Siberian Traps volcanism. Sizable carbon isotope excursions (CIEs) have been found at numerous sites around the world, suggesting massive quantities of 13C-depleted CO2 input into the ocean and atmosphere system. The exact magnitude and cause of the CIEs, the pace of CO2 emission, and the total quantity of CO2, however, remain poorly known. Here, we quantify the CO2 emission in an Earth system model based on new compound-specific carbon isotope records from the Finnmark Platform and an astronomically tuned age model. By quantitatively comparing the modeled surface ocean pH and boron isotope pH proxy, a massive (∼36,000 Gt C) and rapid emission (∼5 Gt C yr-1) of largely volcanic CO2 source (∼-15%) is necessary to drive the observed pattern of CIE, the abrupt decline in surface ocean pH, and the extreme global temperature increase. This suggests that the massive amount of greenhouse gases may have pushed the Earth system toward a critical tipping point, beyond which extreme changes in ocean pH and temperature led to irreversible mass extinction. The comparatively amplified CIE observed in higher plant leaf waxes suggests that the surface waters of the Finnmark Platform were likely out of equilibrium with the initial massive centennial-scale release of carbon from the massive Siberian Traps volcanism, supporting the rapidity of carbon injection. Our modeling work reveals that carbon emission pulses are accompanied by organic carbon burial, facilitated by widespread ocean anoxia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2014701118
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2021


  • CO2
  • Compound specific carbon isotopes
  • Earth system model
  • End-Permian mass extinction


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