Methane, the greatest killer the world has ever seen?

Methane could, in fact, be the biggest killer the world has ever seen. Over 250 million years ago, in what is called the Permian Extinction, an astonishing 90 percent of all species died off in a relatively short span of about 20,000 years. An extinction of that magnitude is likely to be triggered by a number of different events and issues.

Recent research has found that large amounts of methane were being produced and released into the atmosphere at this time. This is most likely due to the large population of a single celled organism called, Methanosarcina. These microbes had the ability to produce and release methane into the environment. Could a tiny organism really have this big of an impact? Short answer: Yes.

It is widely believed that a large amount of volcanoes were extremely active at this time and could have played a major part of this extinction. Instead of serving as an alternative theory to this, scientists believe that the unstable environment created by the volcanoes allowed Methanosarcina to thrive. As more species began to die off and decompose, Methanosarcina only fed off that and multiplied to produce even more methane and kill off more species. A horrific and dangerous loop that rampaged through the world.

So what exactly did methane do to contribute to this massive extinction? Methane has a similar effect to carbon dioxide in that it increases temperatures across the board and makes the air and water more acidic and toxic to life. In this case, oxygen levels also took a dive in the natural conversion of methane to carbon dioxide. Bottom line, Earth was not a pleasant place to live during this period.

More research needs to be done to support this theory, but it definitely has some credence. While the production of methane was not solely responsible for this worldwide catastrophe, it is definitely reasonable to say it was a main contributor. With the current production of methane, carbon dioxide and other harmful elements, we could be heading towards another worldwide extinction. This time, however, it might be our own.