Research ArticlePALEONTOLOGY

UV-B radiation was the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary terrestrial extinction kill mechanism

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Science Advances  27 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 22, eaba0768
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba0768


There is an unexplained terrestrial mass extinction at the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary (359 million years ago). The discovery in east Greenland of malformed land plant spores demonstrates that the extinction was coincident with elevated UV-B radiation demonstrating ozone layer reduction. Mercury data through the extinction level prove that, unlike other mass extinctions, there were no planetary scale volcanic eruptions. Importantly, the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary terrestrial mass extinction was coincident with a major climatic warming that ended the intense final glacial cycle of the latest Devonian ice age. A mechanism for ozone layer reduction during rapid warming is increased convective transport of ClO. Hence, ozone loss during rapid warming is an inherent Earth system process with the unavoidable conclusion that we should be alert for such an eventuality in the future warming world.

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