Fossilised pollen may reveal a driver of the near-annihilation of life on Earth
Growing evidence suggests that volcanic eruptions and the high emission of gases and ash, although lasting only a few days, can impact the climate for years. One important effect is a disruption of the earth's radiative balance when the aerosol clouds created by the particulate matter absorb terrestrial radiation and scatter incoming solar radiation. Volcanic eruptions have now been linked to the Permo–Triassic mass extinction approximately 250 million years ago, when up to 90 % of marine species and 75 % of terrestrial vertebrates disappeared forever. The EU-funded DECRYPT project is studying ultraviolet (UV)-B-absorbing compounds in the fossil remains of pollen for evidence of elevated UV-B radiation that may be related to this near-annihilation of life on Earth. Enhanced understanding could be important to addressing the challenges of climate change facing us today.