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Earth endured over one million years of rain in the "Carnian Pluvial Event"

A period known as the Carnian Pluvial Event, which occurred about 232 million years ago, marked a dramatic turn in Earth’s climate history. 

In an extraordinary shift, the planet transitioned from arid conditions to a prolonged phase of intense rainfall that lasted between one and two million years. 

A world dominated by rain

This significant event was initially identified through the examination of peculiar sediment layers in ancient rocks during the late 20th century, and has since captivated the scientific community. 

The evidence, found in diverse geographical locations from the Eastern Alps to the UK, points towards a world that was dominated by wet conditions, fundamentally altering the course of life on Earth.

Unusual sediment layers 

The story began to unfold in the 1970s and 80s when geologists stumbled upon unusual sediment layers embedded within ancient rocks.

In the Eastern Alps, researchers found evidence of siliciclastic sedimentation – a deposit typically associated with water – within carbonate rocks. 

Similarly, in the UK, geologist and forensic scientist Alastair Ruffell investigated a layer of gray rock deposited within the region’s characteristic red stone. 

The dawn of the dinosaurs 

The findings indicated a sudden and prolonged increase in precipitation that coincided with the dawn of the age of the dinosaurs – a time when these prehistoric giants began to diversify and flourish. 

This correlation hinted at the possibility that the wet conditions could have been a catalyst for the evolutionary success of dinosaurs and other terrestrial fauna, marking a pivotal moment in Earth’s biological history.

The Carnian Pluvial Event 

The Carnian Pluvial Event, also known as the Carnian crisis, has left its mark in geological records across the globe, suggesting a widespread environmental impact. 

The primary driver behind this extraordinary shift in climate appears to be a massive volcanic eruption within the Wrangellia Large Igneous Province, stretching from south-central Alaska through the coast of British Columbia. 

Jacopo Dal Corso, a researcher involved in studying the event, highlighted the eruption’s colossal impact on the atmosphere, with the discharge of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide triggering spikes in global warming.

This period of heightened volcanic activity coincided with Pangea, a supercontinent that dominated the Earth’s landscape. 

Monsoon conditions were intensified 

The geographical configuration of Pangea was already conducive to monsoon conditions, where moist air from the oceans would be drawn inland, cooling and precipitating as heavy rain. 

Professor Paul Wignall of the University of Leeds told New Scientist that the seas during this time were extraordinarily warm, comparing them the temperature of “hot soup.”

This ocean heat would have exacerbated the conditions for more frequent and intense monsoons, leading to unprecedented rainfall over land.

Drastic climate changes 

However, the Carnian Pluvial Event was not without its detrimental effects on life. Research published in the Journal of the Geological Society paints a grim picture of the environmental challenges during this time. 

The volcanic eruptions that kickstarted this period were responsible for generating acid rain and releasing additional greenhouse gases, leading to rapid climate change. 

This “shock warming” had catastrophic effects, including the stripping of vegetation and soils, as well as causing ocean anoxia and acidification. Such harsh conditions resulted in mass extinctions, reshaping the ecological landscape.

Ultimately, the drastic climate changes of the Carnian Pluvial Event paved the way for new forms of life to emerge and diversify, setting the stage for the dominance of dinosaurs and other modern terrestrial fauna.

This event underscores the complex relationship between catastrophic environmental changes and evolutionary processes, offering valuable insights into the resilience and adaptability of life on Earth.


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