The Permian started with an ice age and ended with the most devastating mass extinction the Earth has ever experienced. In fact, at least two mass extinctions occurred during this time. It's also when all the continents of the world finally coalesced into one supercontinent, named Pangaea (meaning 'the entire Earth'). As the globe warmed up and the ice retreated, many areas of Pangaea became very arid. The oxygen level plummeted too, from a high of 35% of the total atmosphere to around 15%. For comparison, today's oxygen content is 21%.
Began: 290 million years ago
Permian mass extinction
248 million years ago
Scotland's red sandstone tells of a time when vast sand dunes covered Britain.
Scotland's red sandstone tells of a time when vast sand dunes covered Britain. This programme was first shown in 1997.
Loose ends are tied up at last to explain the Permian mass extinction.
The Permian mass extinction was caused by two things: volcanic eruptions and methane release. This programme was first shown in 2002.
The most detailed fossil account of the Permian mass extinction is uncovered.
A treasure trove of tiny fossils revealed new evidence of three phases in the Permian mass exinction. This programme was first shown in 2002.
Was there a Permian strike big enough to devastate life on Earth?
Evidence of a meteor strike can be found in Permian quartz, but it doesn't suggest a large enough impact event to have wiped out 95% of life on Earth on its own. This programme was first shown in 2002.
South Africa's lifeless Karoo Basin was once an oasis for strange, forgotten creatures.
Almost 300 million years ago, South Africa's barren Karoo Basin was an oasis for strange and forgotten creatures. It was a stable world until a cataclysmic event caused almost every living thing to die. This programme was first shown in 2002.
Reconstruction of the Earth in the Permian period, 290 million - 248 million years ago. Credit: Dr Ron Blakey, NAU Geology.
During this period the following events are thought to have contributed to the Permian mass extinction.
The Permian is a geologic period and system which extends from 298.9 ± 0.2 to 252.2 ± 0.5 (Million years ago). It is the last period of the Paleozoic Era, following the Carboniferous Period and preceding the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era. It was first introduced in 1841 by geologist Sir Roderick Murchison, and is named after the ancient kingdom of Permia.
The Permian witnessed the diversification of the early amniotes into the ancestral groups of the mammals, turtles, lepidosaurs and archosaurs. The world at the time was dominated by a single supercontinent known as Pangaea, surrounded by a global ocean called Panthalassa. The extensive rainforests of the Carboniferous had disappeared, leaving behind vast regions of arid desert within the continental interior. Reptiles, who could better cope with these drier conditions, rose to dominance in lieu of their amphibian ancestors. The Permian Period (along with the Paleozoic Era) ended with the largest mass extinction in Earth's history, in which nearly 90% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species died out. It would take well into the Triassic for life to recover from this catastrophe.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.