Volcanic eruptions played an important and direct role in triggering the extreme climate that killed off swathes of life at the end of the Triassic period 201m years ago, researchers have found.

Experts say they have discovered bubbles of carbon dioxide trapped in volcanic rocks dating to the end of the Triassic, backing up the theory that such activity contributed to the greenhouse climate that is believed to have been behind the mass extinction.

“This biotic crisis wiped out almost half of the existing species of the late Triassic in both marine and terrestrial realms,” said Manfredo Capriolo of the University of Padova in Italy, a co-author of the study.

While Capriolo noted the end-Triassic mass extinction has long been known to have been caused by extreme climate change, and that there was large-scale volcanic activity at the time, he said it had been unclear whether the volcanic activity directly contributed to the extinction event. Among other possibilities, he said, it could have been that magma caused the emission of gases as it flowed into shallow sediments.

The new work, said Capriolo, shows that carbon dioxide released directly by volcanic activity wo

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