A Guide to the Most Destructive Events in the History of Earth

By Annalee Newitz on at

If you want a little disaster porn this morning, you can watch this How Stuff Works podcast about possible causes of the five mass extinctions that nearly extinguished all life on Earth. After that cheerful topic, I also talk about why scientists believe we're heading into a sixth mass extinction.

I've been obsessed with mass extinction for some time, and even wrote a book about it a couple of years ago. What I'm discussing here are some of my favourite scientific hypotheses (sorry — I called them theories, but I meant hypotheses!) about what caused horrific mass extinctions in deep geological history. Understanding these previous events allows us to make judgements about whether we're in another mass extinction period right now. More importantly, it helps us figure out how we might stop the extinctions before they reach the epic levels required to qualify for a mass extinction.

Many thanks to Christian Sager and all the folks at How Stuff Works, who recorded this late last year at DragonCon.