Stanford paleontologist to forewarn upcoming mass extinction

Sarah Bloodworth

Five mass extinctions across Earth’s history wiped out large amounts of life on land and in the ocean. According to John Payne, the planet is on track for a sixth.

Payne, a geological sciences professor at Stanford University, will speak at UT on Thursday about the evidence for why another mass extinction might occur. Payne said he plans to discuss potential ecological impacts of the impending mass extinction as well as prevention efforts.

“We are on a path toward a major extinction event, potentially even reaching the magnitude of the five largest mass extinction events in Earth’s history,” Payne said. “But we still have time to avert a mass extinction of geological proportions.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, dozens of species of animals are going extinct every day. Payne said this loss of life is a “biodiversity crisis” and that he believes climate change is to blame.

“When you combine this high rate of diversity loss with the knowledge that climate and ocean chemistry are changing rapidly and exceeding the environmental tolerances of many species, one should be quite concerned about the loss of diversity,” he said.

Payne added that during his talk he will compare the proposed characteristics of the sixth mass extinction to past extinctions. He said the forthcoming extinction is unique in that larger animals across many taxonomic groups are going extinct. Payne said this is due to human influence such as deforestation and pollution. According to the National Autonomous University of Mexico, human activity is causing species to go extinct 100 times faster than they would without human activity.

“One of my primary motivations for conducting this research is to help more people gain an accurate understanding of the pattern and causes of extinction across geological time,” Payne said. “Providing this information will allow people across the world to put the present global situation into better perspective and make wiser choices about future environmental policies.”

Payne’s talk, part of the DeFord Lecture series, is open to all students. He will speak in JGB 2.324 at the Jackson Geological Sciences Building from 4 to 5 p.m.