Planet of Fire

2008, Science  -   8 Comments
Ratings: 7.13/10 from 38 users.

In Episode 3 of Catastrophe series, host Tony Robbins continues to explore the global disasters that enabled humanity's evolution. This segment traces the events that lead to the massive Permian Extinction that decimated 95% of life on the planet some 250 million years ago, and what implications those events may have on us today.

It was initially theorized that an asteroid blast nearly destroyed Earth in its Permian Age by blacking out the sun and essentially choking out the majority of ancient life forms; however, evidence found through the study of ancient rocks indicates that the extinction was actually a slow-burn event that took course over the span of a hundred-thousand years, whereas an impact-induced extinction would have occurred within a matter of weeks or even days. It is instead Siberia's ancient lava flow, the Siberian Traps, which led scientists to identify volcanic flood basalt as the true instigator of the Permian extinction.

Interview subjects explain that volcanic conditions created storms of acid rain, which were responsible for ravaging Earth's surface and collapsing the food chain and ecological structure. Although some sulfuric acid remained in the atmosphere and cooled the planet's surface, the eruptions ultimately caused the atmosphere to warm to a degree that had a severe negative impact on climate systems, causing droughts and scorched deserts across the world. Waters went stagnant due to hydrogen sulfide gas and the majority of life at that time failed to escape the extreme change in climate. The remaining 5%, however, evolved into life as we now know it.

Taking a cautionary tone, this episode asks if we are now recreating these same devastating conditions with our current level of carbon dioxide production. Could it be that we are headed towards a new age of extinction, destined to repeat our planet's past devastation? One scientist indicates the answer is a known "yes" and the real question is simply a matter of "when?" Planet of Fire effectively brings our planetary past into our present with this dark but pressing inquiry, reminding us of the many catastrophic events that enabled our world to exist in the first place as well as its ever-changing nature.

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8 Comments / User Reviews

  1. John

    Good thing they are no longer selling HUMMER's.
    So we saved right......?

  2. T. McGrath

    There are some serious flaws with this particular episode.

    First and foremost, the Permian Extinction was not just one mass extinction event, but rather three mass extinction events spaced between 9 and 10 million years apart. Beginning ~270 million years ago there was an extinction event that surpassed the extinction event 65 million years ago. Then 261-260 million years ago there was another large extinction event, although not as big as the previous one. Finally, between 251.941 ± 0.037 and 251.880 ± 0.031 million years ago the largest extinction event occurred, killing 90% of all marine life and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate species.

    Second, the Siberian Traps eruptions did not begin until 248 million years ago, AFTER all three of the Permian extinction events. Therefore, the Siberian Traps eruptions could not have been the cause of the Permian extinction events.

    Also during the Permian the oxygen level in the atmosphere was slowly declining. From between 33% and 35% just before the end of the Carboniferous 320 million years ago, to between 17% and 19% by the end of the Permian 251 million years ago. This would indicate a gradual decline of vegetation planet-wide.

    The most likely cause of all three Permian extinction events is climate change. First, the fourth planetary ice-age that began during the Carboniferous had just ended 280 million years ago and the planet was warming up. Second, Pangaea was beginning to form at the time, and continents were colliding, significantly altering ocean currents. The temperature continued to increase from between 14°C and 16°C at the end of the Carboniferous-Permian ice-age 280 million years ago, to between 35°C and 40°C at the end of the Permian 251 million years ago. That is the hottest that has ever been recorded in the rock layer since complex life began ~540 million years ago.

    Ironically, what they blame as the cause of the Permian extinction event in this video - the Siberian Traps - is most likely what saved life on the planet. At no time in Earth's history has volcanoes ever been blamed for increasing temperatures, nor has there ever been any evidence to support such a supposition. Just the opposite actually. Volcanoes are known to lower global temperatures. The bigger the eruption, the longer it cools the planet. The Siberian Traps eruption 248 million years ago was a very large eruption, over a prolonged period of time.

    There are two notable changes that were recorded in the rock after the Siberian Traps eruptions: 1) The temperatures dropped from between 35°C and 40°C to between 21°C and 23°C; and 2) Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased from between 250 ppm and 350 ppm to between 1,200 ppm and 1,400 ppm.

  3. Nogbad the Bad

    But they don't explain how the Earth recovered from this event. How did the seas get re-oxygenated for example? If there was billions of tons of methane in the atmosphere, where did it all go? We need to know this stuff! Don't tell half the story.

  4. math

    its not THAT tony robbins... different guy

    1. Bos O

      It's Tony ROBINSON in fact

    2. Blaice

      My mistake.

  5. Blaice

    "host Tony Robbins continues..."

    ^ The reason I'm never going to watch this series... Genius idea hiring a motivational speaker to speak about science he has no remote comprehension of.. 101 on how to discredit your own product.

    1. Bos O

      Genius you