Scientists thought it was volcanoes that caused a mass extinction on earth 201 million years ago (this extinction paved the way for the rise of dinosaurs).
Now, a new study from the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution points to massive carbon emission as the cause. The study is published July 21 in Science.
The Nordic Center scientists analyzed carbon isotopes from waxes of land plants and calculated that at least 12,000 gigatons of methane-derived carbon were injected into the earth's atmosphere in less than 20,000 years. This led to rapid global warming that wiped up 50 percent of the species in the ocean and much of the species on land.
The scientists say plant fossils from that period are also consistent with the rapid warming of global temperatures.
What caused this huge gas release?
Micha Ruhl, lead author of the study, told Fox News that it's likely initiated by the release of carbon dioxide from volcanism (previously thought to be the direct cause of the mass extinction) that increased the temperature on the sea floor.
Subsequently, the ice structure that trapped the methane gas on the sea floor melted and a massive amount of methane was released into the atmosphere.
Currently, humans could potentially cause the release of 5,000 gigatons of carbon or more into the atmosphere if all known fossil fuel reserves were burned, stated the study.
People are worried nowadays that the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning could melt glaciers in the same way. That's the big question of course, Ruhl told Fox News.