Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can have a dramatic impact on life on Earth. It has before.

About 200 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic period, about three-quarters of all species died out. The mass extinction was likely triggered by widespread volcanic eruptions. They emitted enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, causing global warming.

“These mega-volcanic events coincide in time with the mass extinction events,” says Manfredo Capriolo, a PhD student at the University of Padua in Italy.

He says the eruptions occurred in bursts over hundreds of thousands of years. Each burst lasted about 500 years.

By studying bubbles of gas trapped in ancient volcanic rock, he determined how much carbon dioxide each burst released. The amount was similar to the human-caused emissions expected this century.

Capriolo says his research shows that a single pulse of volcanic activity could have contributed to dramatic changes to the climate at the end of the Triassic.

Our world is different than it was 200 million years ago. But he says it’s a warning that rapidly adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere now could have major consequences.

“The message of this finding is absolutely alarming,” he says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.