Plants Froze the Planet

Never underestimate moss. When the simple plants first arrived on land, almost half a billion years ago, they triggered both an ice age and a mass extinction of ocean life.

The first land plants appeared around 470 million years ago, during the Ordovician period, when life was diversifying rapidly. They were non-vascular plants, like mosses and liverworts, that didn’t have deep roots.

About 35 million years later, ice sheets briefly covered much of the planet and a mass extinction ensued. Carbon dioxide levels probably fell sharply just before the ice arrived.

About 460 million years ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere ranged somewhere between 14 and 22 times the current level, and the average global temperature was about 5°C higher than it is now. Climate models suggest that widespread glaciations couldn’t take place at that time unless CO2 levels dropped to about eight times what they are at present.

So what caused CO2 levels to drop, the plants performing photosynthesis of course, that is this process which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replaces it with oxygen:

6CO2 + 12H20 –> C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H20

Learn more here or here.

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