The key to the puzzle would come from a totally unexpected quarter.
Gerry Dickens is a geologist working on new sources of energy.
He had no special interest in the Permian extinction,
but one evening, sitting in a bar, he ran into a friend.
We were just sort of chatting about what we were working on for the summer,
and he was telling me that he was working on trying to understand how you could get massive of 12 carbon quickly
because some signatures had been found in the rock records,
and it was very difficult to explain, it didn't make any sense.
Dickens was curious. Several years earlier, he'd spent time on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico,
prospecting for a new source of energy called methane hydrate.
It's a gas frozen in huge reservoirs just below the seabed.
Dickens knew this methane contained massive quantities of carbon 12.
He also knew there were dozens of these methane hydrate reservoirs scattered around the world's coasts.
We find 'em for instance along the coast of south America, along central America,
all along the western coast of the US and Canada, indications round Australia, Indonesia,
essentially anywhere along continental margins where you get a lot of organic matter that decays at the bottom and produces methane.