The Earth has experienced five mass extinction events that have diluted life diversity and destroyed its ecosystems. There was also another characteristic of the most devastating Earth extinction event – it was extremely odorous. The biggest mass extinction event in Earth’s history lasted longer than it should have due to the constant release of toxic gases by tiny microbes.
The rotten egg smell!
Around 250 million years ago, towards the end of the Permian period, this event took place. The planet must have smelled like ‘rotten eggs’ during this era, in addition to toxic gases in the air. This odor was probably caused by extreme heat on the planet.
According to the study, heat alters the metabolism of microbes. Oxygen in the ocean was mostly used up by ‘decomposing organic material’. Thus, ‘microbes started breathing sulfate,’ which in turn created hydrogen sulfide, resulting in a foul smell. The gas is extremely dangerous for animals that come in contact with it, according to Phys.org. The toxic gas levels on Earth continue unabated when nutrients are released during natural decomposition and called ‘euxinia’.
When humans breathe in hydrogen sulfide, they experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, and sneezing. Continual exposure to hydrogen sulfide can render humans seriously ill and even lead to death. This study, published in Nature Geoscience sheds light on how oceans are contributing to climate change and offers a grim glimpse of what our future may hold. Temperature increases tend to increase the size of euxinic zones in the oceans. By moving up the water column, toxic zones can poison marine life by spreading quickly.