Reporter 447, 21 February 2000


An eruption of misunderstanding

Paolo Viscardi
Biology

I was extremely disappointed by the article "Fossils reveal end of the world as they knew it" in Reporter No. 446.

The observation that humans would arrive 250 million years late, if a total extinction had occurred, raised a chuckle of disbelief - humans are not some inevitable goal of the evolutionary process! This anthropocentric view, held by many, has been a problem which many evolutionary scientists have struggled to combat in the public for years - obviously to no avail if an intelligent, educated person can write a report so brazenly lacking an understanding of this subject matter.

Both Paul Wignall and Richard Twitchett are excellent palaeontologists, and I wonder how they feel about the way in which their research has been represented? The Permo-Triassic event has been one of the most enduring mysteries in Earth history, termed the "Mother of Mass Extinctions" by Douglas Erwin.

It is clear that the Siberian volcanism of the time contributed to the event, and that it was probably a primary cause. This was said in the article. However, volcanoes have errupted fairly frequently on the Earth throughout geological time, so why this extinction as a result?

The nature of the Siberian Trap volcanics was very different to most volcanic activity. Rather than plate tectonic volcanism, the Siberian Traps were formed as a result of plume tectonics - a much rarer and more powerful form of volcanism.

Only eight large plume eruptions have taken place since the Palaeozoic (one forming the Decan Traps near the end of the Cretaceous period, possibly contributing to the extinction of the dinosaurs), the largest of which being the Siberian episode at the end of the Permian. 2.5 million sq km, about 3 million cu km in volume, of basalt was blasted out from the core and mantle of the Earth, accompanied by gasses and debris which were injected into the atmosphere. Not just your normal volcanic eruption.

In addition to this, there was an oxygen crisis in the super ocean, Panthalassa, which may have resulted in a major degassing event - ie a dense cloud of CO2 would be expelled, smothering the oceans and low-lying coastal areas (much like the catastrophic degassing of Lake Nyos, in the Cameroon, where hundreds of people were killed as carbon dioxide degassed from a volcanic lake and cascaded down valleys nearby).

So, there is more to the story than just having a volcano going off.

To finish my rant I'd like to say that if it hadn't been for the Permo-Triassic extinction event humans would never have evolved at all - our ancestors were lucky to survive, but were more lucky in that most of their competitors didn't.

Parking the problem somewhere else

Denise Hirschmann
Brotherton Library

The survey of campus commuters reports that "800 people would use a Lawnswood-based park-and-ride system." (Reporter 446).

Interesting, but such a scheme could be viewed as a shift of the problem northwards - the Lawnswood/A660 area would, in terms of land use and traffic, suffer the environmental consequences.

It is also likely, as suggested by studies of park-and-ride schemes elsewhere, that car use would actually increase: people drive to the park-and-ride site rather than use available public transport.

It would seem that the only way to tackle the problem, without penalising other parts of the city, is to improve public transport (and facilities for safe cycling and walking).

In the same issue of the Reporter, Professor John Macklin discusses teaching space strategy and writes "As large flat space becomes available, consideration is given to potential use." Purple zone?

Waffle, piffle - and no real alternatives

Vic Rogers-Gentile
School of Textile Industries

The 68-page thick University of Leeds Traffic Review (Reporter 446) seeks to address the car parking problem by forcing the motorist to fund less desirable public transport schemes.

Its message is crystal clear - give up your car. The main options appear to be bus travel (overcrowded and usually dirty); rail travel (ditto); cycling (arrive at work blue-nosed, rain drenched, and exhausted ); and walking (a primitive and eccentric form of travel, little used nowadays).

The photograph in the report of the ‘rail station bus stop’ - used as one of the main bus-stops to the University, is not exactly a good advertisement for change. It is surrounded by numerous wheelie-bins, garbage, and a grim depressing wall, wind-swept from the tunnel.

The document has lots of on-going ‘goals’, ‘proposals’, ‘developments’, ‘improvements’, etc., ‘Supertrams’ (again??), ‘Guided Bus’ (!!!), vague statements such as "public transport will be supported - where appropriate and practicable." Much of this seems to be waffle, if not piffle.

More serious is the plan to encompass the University’s territory under Leeds City Council’s controlled parking zone (if you think £2.50 is a lot to pay for casual parking, wait till the LCC get here). And what on earth is "decriminalised parking enforcement"'?

Nearly 60% of University staff are car users and the percentage is rising; public transport users account for only 28%. The remaining minority commuters are cyclists, walkers, roller bladers, pogo-stick hoppers, etc. In previous letters, I have shown how parking spaces could be increased by at least 50%, and have been attacked by pseudo-environmentalists and concrete-o-phobes. It is now time to re-examine these suggestions! If the University is intent on expansion it is ludicrous to expect a reversal in car commuting.

Please, however, do not take out your frustrations on the University’s security men at the barrier - the parking regulations are not their fault. They have a difficult time enough with some rude visitors AND staff, which I have seen at first hand, and which they handled very tactfully.

P.S. What is the going rate for an annual permit from a parking ticket tout?

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