Forget Carbon Dioxide: The Real Threats Come From Above And Below

Posted on Tue 02/09/2021 by


By Dr. John Happs ~

“The history of any one part of the Earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror.”

Dr. Derek Victor Ager, British paleontologist (1923-1993) in his book:  “The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record” (1973)

There are more species around today than at any other time in Earth’s history yet it is widely accepted that, of all biological species that have lived on Earth, more than 90% became extinct long before humans came along. Today, there is an acknowledged rate of ongoing extinctions called the background rate whereby species naturally disappear over time.

Dr. Philip Stott, Professor of Biogeography at the University of London, has dismissed alarmist claims about current mass extinctions due to (imaginary) global warming. He said:

“The earth has gone through many periods of major extinctions, some much bigger in size than even being contemplated today.”


“Change is necessary to keep up with change in nature itself. In other words, change is the essence. And the idea that we can keep all species that now exist would be anti-evolutionary, anti-nature and anti the very nature of the earth in which we live.”

In stark contrast to the trivial current background rate, mass extinctions have occurred on numerous occasions throughout geologic time. These are regarded as “natural” cataclysmic events and it is certain that such events will happen again. Those alarmists, making exaggerated claims about current extinctions, need to be aware of the number, magnitude, speed and cause of past extinction events.

Fortunately, life has always recovered on Earth, albeit over thousands, if not millions of years, with new niches (living spaces) being filled, rapid speciation and increased diversity of life. Speciation and extinction are natural “birth” and “death” processes that have been ongoing throughout most of Earth’s history.

In addition to numerous relatively minor extinction events, 5 major mass extinctions are well documented and summarised here:

The first mass extinction known as the Ordovician-Silurian event took place around 440 million years ago. It is estimated that a long period of low-temperature stress (hypothermia) led to the loss of over 85% of species on Earth.

The second mass extinction, known as the Late Devonian event, took place around 360 million years ago and comprised two extinction pulses with about 200,000 years separating them. Life was underway on land at the time and it is estimated that around 75% of species were lost, mainly in marine environments.

Again, there is evidence of a rapid fall in global temperature, followed by glaciation and a lowering of sea levels.

The third mass extinction, and the largest was the Permian-Triassic event, known as The Great Dying.  This took place around 250 million years ago when life on Earth was very nearly wiped out. About 70% of terrestrial vertebrates and 95% of marine species disappeared in a relatively short period of geologic time.

Dr. Jahandar Ramezani, at MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences commented on the swiftness of the Permian-Triassic extinction:

“A vibrant marine ecosystem was continuing until the very end of Permian, and then bang—life disappears. And the big outcome of this paper is that we don’t see early warning signals of the extinction. Everything happened geologically very fast.”

The fourth mass extinction, known as the Triassic-Jurassic event took place around 200 million years ago and it is estimated that 80% of all species disappeared over a period of 10,000 years. Most of the large species of amphibians disappeared during this extinction event and the sudden availability of so many ecological niches enabled the dinosaurs to become dominant during the later Jurassic period.

The fifth mass extinction, known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary or K-T event took place around 65 million years ago and marked the end of the dinosaurs along with about 75% of all the species on the planet.

Claims that we are seeing a mass extinction event today are patently absurd, especially in light of what we know about the magnitude and extent of the many real mass extinction events that threatened to end all life on Earth.

The cause, or causes, of past mass extinctions are still hotly debated by scientists. Suffice to say, atmospheric carbon dioxide is not even considered as having posed any threat to life on Earth at any point in geologic time. What remains certain is that atmospheric carbon dioxide was vital for the recovery of plant and animal life following each of those past mass extinctions.

There is good evidence to show that Earth-collisions from comets, asteroids and violent volcanic eruptions have played major roles in past extinctions with much disagreement remaining about the part each played. But then, disagreement is to be expected and welcomed in science.

Although it remains unclear whether comet/asteroid strike, volcanism, or a combination of both, were responsible for past major extinctions we know there were dramatic falls in global temperature and sea level accompanying each event. Either a comet/asteroid strike or large-scale volcanism could lead to massive amounts of debris being ejected into the atmosphere, blocking out sunlight for a prolonged period of time. This could account for long-term global cooling known as “impact winter”.

An “impact winter” would mean no sunlight reaching the Earth, leading to dramatic cooling and the demise of plant and animal life.

Prinn and Fegley (1987) determined that the intense heat generated by either impact or volcanism would lead to a further threat, with atmospheric nitrogen, oxygen and water combining to form nitric acid rain. This would have a disastrous impact on both marine and terrestrial life.,+R.+G.+and+Fegley,+B.:+1987,+Earth+Planet.+Sci.+Lett.+83,+1.&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart


Even to the unaided eye, the Moon appears to be heavily cratered and examination by telescope or binoculars will show that hardly any part of the lunar surface has escaped impact. It is likely that the Earth has been impacted just as many times as the Moon throughout its history. Fortunately for us, the Earth was struck many more times by meteorites in the distant geological past, compared to more recent times.

The cratered Moon

Craters are well preserved on the moon whereas the evidence for cratering on Earth has largely been destroyed by weathering and erosional processes. The Late Cretaceous Kara Crater in Russia is thought to have been 120 km in diameter at impact but has been reduced to its current diameter of 65 kilometres.

Many Earth impacts have been concealed by the oceans and one such example is the 35 km diameter Eltanin Crater southwest of Chile. This occurred about 2 million years ago but most of the evidence for this has long since been lost due to erosion.

The 20 km diameter Silverpit Crater was formed around 60 million years ago and lies 130 kilometres off the English coast in the North Sea. It is in 40 metres of water and buried under 1,500 metres of sediment.

Other impact craters, such as the 130 million year old, 22 km diameter Tookoonooka Crater in southwestern Queensland, Australia are also buried under hundreds of metres of sediment.…32..593G/abstract

Similarly, the 35 million year old Chesapeake Bay Crater in the USA is now buried under 500 metres of sediment.

A number of craters have been identified from collisions that took place at the Ordovician-Silurian boundary (around 440 million years ago). Multiple craters of similar age have been located in Europe and North America, suggesting that a large asteroid broke up leading to several Earth impacts.

Confirmed impact sites from this event include the 6 km diameter Rock Elm Crater in Wisconsin:

There is the 26 km diameter Clearwater East Crater in Quebec, Canada although the Clearwater West Crater was made by a later impact.

Clearwater East impact crater

The Siljan Ring Crater in Sweden is the largest in Europe, having a diameter of around 52 km.

Siljan Ring impact crater

This is thought to be the site of one major impact (around 360 million years ago) and has been linked to the first Devonian extinction.

In 2000, Morey et al. announced the discovery of a buried 120 km diameter crater on the Woodleigh Station in Western Australia. The Woodleigh Crater, east of Shark Bay, is one of the largest impact structure known, caused by a 5 to 12 km diameter asteroid or comet.

Other Late Devonian impact craters have been identified including those in Quebec, (8 km diameter), Saskatchewan (8 km diameter) and New York State (10 km diameter).

Dr. Luann Becker from the University of California at Santa Barbara and Australian geologist Dr. John Gorter claimed to have discovered evidence of a very large (250 km diameter) impact crater off the North-West coast of Australia dating back to the Permian-Triassic boundary (around 250 million years ago). This is known as the Bedout High Crater. Becker and Gorter argue that this impact could have contributed to the third mass extinction.

There is evidence for multiple meteorite strikes at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary (around 200 million years ago). Impact structures have been identified in France (5), Canada (2), Ukraine and the USA (2) with the age of the 100 km diameter Canadian Manicouagan Crater (first identified from space) being placed close to the Triassic-Jurassic boundary by Olsen et al.

Manicouagan crater, Quebec, Canada

The Morokweng Crater, buried in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, is a 160 km diameter structure formed by an asteroid around 10 km in diameter impacting the Earth approximately 145 million years ago.

A number of craters have been identified as being from the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, including the 25 km diameter Steen River Crater located beneath 200 metres of sediment in Alberta, Canada. Another crater formed at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary is the 35 km diameter Manson Crater in Iowa.

Perhaps the largest (and possibly the best known) impact site identified so far is the Chicxulub Crater in Mexico. This measures more than 180 km in diameter. In 1980, a team led by Luis Alvarez identified global sites of sedimentary rock strata at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary that contained a relatively high concentration of iridium, a silvery-white metal that is almost absent in the Earth’s crust but commonly found in certain kinds of asteroid.

NASA/JPL-Caltech, modified by David Fuchs at en.wikipedia

More than 100 iridium anomalies have now been identified around the globe and are linked to the Chicxulub impact.

An increasing number of scientists now think that each of the big five extinction events have links to asteroid or comet strikes and a global impact database is being updated as more impact sites are found:

A number of impacted sites are shown here:

Dr. Alan Harris from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, suggests there are about 500,000 asteroids with diameters 50-75 metres that are located in the same region of space through which the Earth orbits and about 1,100 large Near-Earth-Objects (NEOs) travelling in the same space. The UK Spaceguard Centre underscores the point that:

The most significant natural danger to life on Earth comes from asteroids and comets.”

Pointing to geologic evidence, many scientists do not regard meteorite/asteroid impact as being the sole driver of extinctions. Volcanic activity, acting alone or in unison with meteorite strikes, is also seen as another major factor in bringing about severe climate change and extinctions.

Dr. Vincent Courtillot has proposed that massive volcanic eruptions have caused past major extinctions and there is evidence to show that shock waves from an asteroid or comet impact could trigger violent volcanism. In other words, a combination of impact and subsequent volcanism would eject massive amounts of material into the atmosphere leading to dramatic global cooling and the demise of plants and animals.

Numerous geologists have now pointed to large-scale volcanism as being responsible for the mass extinction at the end of the Ordovician Period. Jones et al. (2017) point out:

“Huge volcanic eruptions can produce sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere. Sulfate aerosols are strong, light-reflecting aerosols, and cause global cooling. This rapid climate change is believed to be behind the loss of marine creatures.”

Dr. Paul Wignall from the University of Leeds in England added:

“Now we can say that all of the ‘Big Five’ mass extinctions coincide with major volcanic events but, until our discovery, this (late Devonian extinction) was the major exception.”

Dr. Christian Koeberl from the University of Vienna and his team point to the culprit for the end of Permian mass extinction as large-scale volcanic activity that took place in present-day Siberia.

They have identified an igneous province called the “Siberian Traps” (trappa is Swedish for steps or stairs) with volcanism lasting almost 1 million years, depositing around 3 million cubic kms over an area the size of the United States to a depth of 1 kilometre.

Siberian Traps in Russia

The Siberian Traps were built up with material ejected during violent volcanic activity. Prolonged eruptions led to massive amounts of debris being thrown into the atmosphere, leading to widespread, long-term global cooling.

Although the end of Cretaceous mass extinction has been definitively linked to the Chicxulub meteorite impact, it also coincided with the massive Deccan flood basalt volcanism in India. Richards et al. (2015) propose that the Chicxulub impact either triggered or magnified those violent eruptions.

The Deccan Traps represent one of the largest volcanic features on Earth, covering an area of more than 500,000 sq. km. with layers of flood basalt over 2,000 metres thick

Deccan Traps, India  Deccan Traps, India

McGregor et al. (2015) and other scientists have shown how volcanism, asteroid strikes or a combination of both can trigger global cooling that lasts for centuries.

More recent large-scale volcanic eruptions have led to widespread devastation and global cooling.

Around 1600 BCE, the catastrophic Minoan eruption destroyed the island of Thera (Santorini) in the Aegean Sea. The Minoan settlement at Akrotiri was abandoned before the eruption that ejected more than four times the material from the Krakatoa explosion.  Akrotiri was buried and nearby islands devastated. It is estimated that the coast of Crete received tsunamis up to 150 metres high.

Santorini caldera

Global cooling followed the Minoan eruption with crop failures recorded in China and much of the Northern Hemisphere.

A large volcanic eruption during the 6th century is thought to have caused significant global cooling, leading to famine and plague around the globe. There is documented evidence of famine in Ireland for some time after 536 ACE whilst the Byzantine historian Procopius reported:

“A most dreaded portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.”

Lavigne et al. (2013) have proposed that the worldwide atmospheric and climatic effects of this eruption came from the Samalas volcano in Indonesia when more than 40 km3 of tephra was ejected with the eruption column reaching an altitude of over 40 km.

More recently, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia was the largest in the last 1,300 years, killing over 100,000 people.

This followed on from previous eruptions such as the 1814 Mayon, the 1813 Suwanosejima, the 1812 Awu and the 1812 La Soufriere eruptions.

These series of eruptions added to the already widespread cooling, crop failures, famine and many deaths.

More recently still, the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait killed around 36,000 people with evidence of global cooling.

In 1991 Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted and this led to over 700 deaths, more than 200,000 were made homeless and global cooling was again noted.

We should bear in mind that these more recent examples are relatively minor eruptions compared to eruptions from super volcanoes and the associated cooling was relatively brief.

To further underscore the future threat we face from larger-scale volcanic eruptions, subsequent global cooling and possible extinctions, we should turn our attention to some of the dormant super volcanoes on Earth. These structures don’t even look like typical volcanoes. Rather they look more like large depressions in the landscape, resulting from huge collapsed craters called calderas.

Amongst the known super volcanoes that are almost certain to erupt again are: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA; The Long Valley Caldera, California, USA; The Valles Caldera, New Mexico, USA; Lake Toba Caldera, Sumatra, Indonesia and the Lake Taupo Caldera in New Zealand.

Scientists have issued warnings about the consequences of future super volcanic eruptions and impacts from comets and asteroids, calling for closer monitoring of these very real threats. Yet we continue to waste trillions of taxpayer dollars because some politicians, without any empirical evidence, believe that the trivial level of atmospheric carbon dioxide offers some kind of threat to life on Earth. Forget carbon dioxide emissions, super volcanoes, comets and asteroids are more than capable of threatening all life on Earth.

Pointless climate mitigation schemes have already cost taxpayers dearly with no prospect of any of those schemes achieving anything useful.

Making the Earth safer by further monitoring active and dormant volcanoes and Near Earth Objects is likely to require far less money than the trillions of dollars that have already been wasted on ridiculous attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for no good reason.

Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.