If you could have been there, somewhere in Siberia at the end of the Paleozoic Era nearly 252 million years ago, you would have witnessed an apocalyptic horror that rarely visits our planet.
Also, I mean, you would have been doomed. Almost certainly. It was a bad scene. Mass extinction is a real shitshow.
But let’s say, somehow, you could have watched this madness unfold—without succumbing to the monstrous cloud of carbon dioxide belched up from the volcanoes of the Siberian Traps, without being incinerated by an ocean of lava, without starving in the ruins of the global acid rain that destroyed the ecosystems on land, and without being burned alive in the wildfires that scorched the earth.
If you could have lived through all of this, which, by the way, you wouldn’t have, you would have been among the few creatures to survive what paleontologists now refer to as the Great Dying. It’s a good name for what happened.
There have only been five mass extinction events, that we know of, on Earth. The mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs was the most recent—but it wasn't the most devastating. The Great Dying, which preceded the demise of the dinosaurs by about 180 million years, was by far the worst: The planet warmed rapidly— roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit over a 60,000-year period. Some 90 percent of all living creatures went kaput. It then took 10 million years for life on Earth to bounce back, which was a curiously long recovery period, even for an extinction of that magnitude.