Over six years, the team repeatedly returned to Siberia for field work. They flew to remote towns and were dropped by helicopter either to float down rivers collecting rocks, or to hike across the forests. They ultimately collected over 1,000 pounds of samples, which were shared with a team of 30 scientists from eight different countries.

As the samples were analyzed, the team began seeing strange fragments in the volcaniclastics that seemed like burnt wood, and in some cases, burnt coal. Further field work turned up even more sites with charcoal, coal, and even some sticky organic-rich blobs in the rocks.

Elkins-Tanton then collaborated with fellow researcher and co-author Steve Grasby of the Geological Survey of Canada, who had previously found microscopic remains of burnt coal on a Canadian arctic island. Those remains dated to the end-Permian and were thought to have wafted to Canada from Siberia as coal burned in Siberia. Grasby found that the Siberian Traps samples collected by Elkins-Tanton had the same evidence of burnt coal.

“Our study shows that Siberian Traps magmas intruded into and incorporated coal and organic material,” Elkins-Tanton said. “That gives us direct evidence that the magmas also combusted large quantities of coal and organic matter during eruption.”

And the changes at the end-Permian extinction bear remarkable parallels to what is happening on Earth today, including burning hydrocarbons and coal, acid rain from sulfur and even ozone-destroying halocarbons.

“Seeing these similarities gives us extra impetus to take action now, and also to further understand how the Earth responds to changes like these in the longer term,” Elkins-Tanton said.

Additional study co-authors include Benjamin Black of City College of New York, Roman Veselovskiy of the Institute of Physics of the Earth (Russia), Omid Haeri Ardakani of the Geological Survey of Canada, and Fariborz Goodarzi of FG & Partners Ltd.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration

480-965-9345