World’s ending, enough time to read this?

headimg What will happen today on the last day of the world (21st)? Will some giant asteroid hit the Earth? Will massive tsunamis ravage all the coast lines? Will climate suddenly be way to warm for life? Will methane bubble out of the oceans and asphyxiate everybody? Or are aliens going to take over our planet?

We could spend a long time discussing the causes (or not !) of the end of the world. However people usually ignore the timing of this type of inevitable (or not !!) catastrophe. We all have in mind the asteroid that Alvarez and his fellows discovered – the one that wiped out in a blink of an eye the ferocious Mr. T-Rex. But what people tend to ignore/forget is the timing of such events…

When studying the history of life, the timing and the scale of the timing is always very important! Did the asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs? If we could watch the impact of this asteroid, would we see a herd of Triceratops peacefully grazing on the ground and then, in a blink of an eye… Nothing ?! Same for the even more massive end-Permian event, would we have seen the trilobites bubbling in the sea and then the day after a desolated planet? No.

As this biological crisis appears really swift and savage in the fossil record, it does not mean that they were quick in reality. The fossil record is a random and imperfect record of time. What might look as quick as a blink of an eye could also be something as smooth and long as several million years !

As a French guy, I’m not putting the Catastrophism vs. Uniformitarianism debate back on the table. Obviously these crises were real, loads of species disappeared and in a small amount of time. But a small amount of time relative to the fossil record, not according to the Mayan calendar !

So I’ll say no worries, if the Mayans were right we still will have time to enjoy Christmas turkey as well as the next couple of million years to go !

Photo credit: wikimedia commons

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Written on December 21, 2012