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Cliff

The Permian Extinction and Fossil Fuel

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Hello, everyone! 

A few weeks ago I had the idea that, contrary to my original thinking, the (relatively) slow burning of fossil fuels might be a good thing. The following is what got me thinking about that.

What if one of the massive oil fields around the planet were to catch fire? Now, what if that happened to several at once? This got me thinking about mass extinction. Burning oil fields with no way to put them out would certainly begin to threaten life on the planet. I wondered if that had been considered for any of the previous mass extensions. 

Of course, as the internet has shown me over and over I'm almost certainly never the first to have any idea, and so I found that some newer studies suggest just that:
https://www.livescience.com/17577-great-dying-coal-eruption.html

Quote

A great explosive burning of coal set fire and made molten by lava bubbling from the Earth's mantle , looking akin to Kuwait's giant oil fires but lasting anywhere from centuries to millennia, could have been the cause of  the world's most-devastating mass extinction, new research suggests.

Now this particular study suggests coal rather than oil which could also be the case since they burn similarly. Burning oil produces less carbon dioxide than coal but burning enough of either (or both) for hundreds or thousands of years would certainly explain the decrease in life and how it was kept at such low levels.

Volcanic activity was the catalyst behind the Permian Extinction. There is plenty of evidence of massive eruptions. But would that on it's own be enough to take life down to the nearly completely obliterated levels of "The Great Dying"? I think fossil fuels burning in mass over that time explains nearly every "symptom" of what that world looked like according to the geological record. 

With those thoughts in mind, are we inadvertently lowering the planet's risk for another such event by burning those fuels off more slowly than a volcanic eruption would?

This isn't an anti-environmental post. I just want to make that clear. It's just a thought.

Hmmm ... and I thought I posted this under Earth Sciences. Would a moderator mind moving it?

Thanks!

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Posted (edited)
18 minutes ago, Cliff said:

What if one of the massive oil fields around the planet were to catch fire? Now, what if that happened to several at once?

Two things are needed for fire: fuel and oxygen.

Fuel without free access to Oxygen won't burn. Therefore the main way to shutdown fire is to use already burned hydrogen oxide. Water. However, at really really high temperature fires water molecule could be split to gaseous Hydrogen and gaseous Oxygen, which can lead to explosion. Such things happened in e.g. nuclear plants. Water used to cool down nuclear reactor has been split to gaseous Hydrogen, which later exploded and damaged nuclear plants.

Edited by Sensei

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My apologies but I'm not sure I understand the point you're making. Is it that the oil is underground and doesn't have access to oxygen? I know that some oil makes it to the surface. I also wonder if all of that seismic activity and lava coming up from the ground could have moved even more to the surface?

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1 hour ago, Sensei said:

Such things happened in e.g. nuclear plants. Water used to cool down nuclear reactor has been split to gaseous Hydrogen, which later exploded and damaged nuclear plants.

Only one, in the Ukraine.

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Vegetation, set on fire by volcanic eruptions, burn even less cleanly than coal.
Why postulate burning oil fields ?

One was the result of bad engineering, and incompetent cover-up, Sensei.
The other, the result of water getting where its not supposed to be , because of an earthquake.
But you're right, it can happen.

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2 minutes ago, MigL said:

Vegetation, set on fire by volcanic eruptions, burn even less cleanly than coal.
Why postulate burning oil fields ?

Yeah, but would they burn for hundreds or thousands of years? In my mind I just envisioned lava making contact with a huge oil fields completely igniting them vs. vegetation that would have limited burning time by comparison, and coal which seems like it would take more to ignite so much. It seems like a coal fire wouldn't spread to as much nearby coal as an oil fire would. Though there's no reason both couldn't be happening at once. 

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Oil fields are not surface phenomena; they are usually underground, and have little access to oxidizer to burn with.
Surface phenomena, other than vegetation, are decaying vegetation ( already oxidizing very slowly ), and tar pits, which would burn for quite a while.

How much oil would you need to burn to equal the CO2, and other gases spewed by one volcanic eruption ?

The Mt. St. Helens eruption was only a 5 on the log scale of volcanic eruptions ( 1 to 8 ), yet it released 10 million tons of CO2 in 9 hrs.
But that's relatively small, as all of Earth's present volcanoes emit 260 million tons annually.

https://skepticalscience.com/1980_mt_st_helens_eruption_co2_emissions_compared_to_us_transportation_sector.html

And this is a relatively 'quiet' time for volcanic activity compared to previous eras ( like the one in question ).

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Cliff said:

Of course, as the internet has shown me over and over I'm almost certainly never the first to have any idea, and so I found that some newer studies suggest just that:
https://www.livescience.com/17577-great-dying-coal-eruption.html

Quote

A great explosive burning of coal set fire and made molten by lava bubbling from the Earth's mantle , looking akin to Kuwait's giant oil fires but lasting anywhere from centuries to millennia, could have been the cause of  the world's most-devastating mass extinction, new research suggests.

Now this particular study suggests coal rather than oil which could also be the case since they burn similarly. Burning oil produces less carbon dioxide than coal but burning enough of either (or both) for hundreds or thousands of years would certainly explain the decrease in life and how it was kept at such low levels.

Firstly a complaint.

Not your fault exactly but the link you gave want me to join their club or somesuch so I cannot view it.

However you had the foresight to post a short extract +1

 

Now let us look at the geological basis of the idea.

The Carboniferous period, when the coal  was laid down, immediately preceded the Permian. Say 370 to 280 mya and lasted about 90 million years.

The Permian itself then lasted a shorter period of roughly half that duration, from 280 to 235 mya

This was followed by the Triassic ( the first of the Mesozoic periods; the Mesozoic lasted until the dinosaurs)

The actual mass extinction you refer to took place over a very short period of time at the Permian-Triassic boundary. It is known as the P-T boundary event.

 

Now the Carboniferous was a relatively settled period unlike the following Permain, when the massive Siberian lava flows occurred.
So the Carboniferous conditions were right for the steady laying down of the sedimentary coal measures etc.

And it is true that the Permian saw some spectacular vulcanicity.

The Mesozoic era also accounts for about 70% of the world oil formation.

Quote

https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Oil_formation

Oil formation. ... 70% of oil deposits existing today were formed in the Mesozoic age (252 to 66 million years ago), 20% were formed in the Cenozoic age (65 million years ago), and only 10% were formed in the Paleozoic age (541 to 252 million years ago).

So question 1.


Why in 45 million years did the Permian not burn up all the coal , if this was a feasible option?

Question 2

Why did life flourish during the Permian and why did the mass extinction wait until  the P-T boundary to happen ?

Question 3

How did the oild which was largely formed after the P-T event cause the P-T event?

 

 

 

Edited by studiot

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Posted (edited)

Yes it is, Cliff and Friendstalkingwithyou...

And some do think your idea carries some weight.

"In January 2011, a team, led by Stephen Grasby of the Geological Survey of Canada—Calgary, reported evidence that volcanism caused massive coal beds to ignite, possibly releasing more than 3 trillion tons of carbon. The team found ash deposits in deep rock layers near what is now the Buchanan Lake Formation. According to their article, "coal ash dispersed by the explosive Siberian Trap eruption would be expected to have an associated release of toxic elements in impacted water bodies where fly ash slurries developed.... Mafic megascale eruptions are long-lived events that would allow significant build-up of global ash clouds."[116][117] In a statement, Grasby said, "In addition to these volcanoes causing fires through coal, the ash it spewed was highly toxic and was released in the land and water, potentially contributing to the worst extinction event in earth history."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian–Triassic_extinction_event#Volcanism

Whether this was an isolated case, or global, needs more research.

Its been fun/interesting learning with you.

 

 

 

Edited by MigL

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