Undisciplined: Prehistory Repeats Itself

Jul 17, 2020

Coal in Siberian flood basalts
Credit Scott Simper

How long has coal burning been responsible for climate change? If right now you are trying to remember when the industrial revolution began, that’s a completely reasonable guess. But according to some recent research, it’s not even close. The correct answer, the researchers say, is 250 million years ago. How can that be?

Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a planetary scientist whose work focuses on the evolution of terrestrial planets, and the relationships between our planet and the life it sustains. Her team’s recent study provides the first direct evidence that extensive coal burning is a cause of the Permo-Triassic extinction. She is the managing director of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University and also the principal investigator of NASA's Psyche mission to explore the metallic asteroid16 Psyche.