Drawing on the latest research, this timely and original book lays out the current scientific understanding of mass extinction on our planet. Cutting-edge techniques across biology, chemistry, physics and geology have transformed our knowledge of the deep past, including the discovery of a previously unknown mass extinction. This compelling evidence, revealing a series of environmental crises resulting in the near-collapse of life on Earth, illuminates our current dilemmas in exquisite detail.
Beginning with the oldest, Professor Michael J. Benton takes us through the 'big five' die-outs: the Late Ordovician, which set the evolution of the first animals on an entirely new course; the late Devonian, apparently brought on by global warming; the cataclysmic End-Permian, also known as the Great Dying, which wiped out over 90% of all life on Earth; and, book-ending the age of the dinosaurs, the newly discovered Carnian Pluvial Event and the End-Cretaceous asteroid. He examines how global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification, erupting volcanoes and meteorite impact have affected conditions on Earth, the drastic consequences for global ecology, and how life in turn survived, adapted and evolved.
Benton's expert retelling of the scientific breakthroughs are illustrated throughout with photographs of fossils and fieldwork, scenes from the laboratory and artistic reconstructions of ancient environments that bring us face to face with long-lost life forms. We learn how scientists have developed revolutionary new tools to uncover ancient extinction events and processes in forensic detail, how they model evolving systems, and how they are honing their methods to improve our understanding of the deep past. New research allows us to link long-ago upheavals to crises in our current age, the Anthropocene, with important consequences for us all.