The Big Five in London


The skyline of London through time.

An international meeting on the causes of extinction is being held at the Natural History Museum next week, but the organizers have missed a trick.  Hosting a conference on mass extinctions in London, they should have been more literal, and re-enacted each of the Big 5 at appropriate localities around the city.  It would have been exciting, interactive, and a great example of science outreach, and the structure of events should have been like this:

(N.B. After I tweeted this post, Dr Matt Hall of Agile Geoscience calculated that if 10,000 people attended the conference, and went along to the 5 mass extinction events, just one of them would be left alive at the end.  I have now added the surviving delegate numbers to each event.)


1. The end-Ordovician extinction will take place at Lapworth Court, Westminster.  86% of attendees will disappear as a consequence of a very rapid freeze followed by a very rapid period of warming.  If 10,000 delegates attend this event, only 1,400 will make it through.

Charles Lapworth, who invented the Ordovician.

2. The late Devonian extinctions will take place at Devonshire House, Piccadilly.  Appropriately, the original Devonshire House is extinct.  70% of the 1400 people present will be wiped out in two main events, but the reasons for each will be debatable.  Nonetheless, there will be only 420 survivors.

Devon, which invented the Devonian.

3. The end-Permian extinction will take place on Murchison Road, Leyton.  96% of the 420 remaining attendees will vanish as a result of a major volcanic outpouring, leaving just 17 lucky souls to advance into the Mesozoic.  For those survivors who cannot bear to leave the Palaeozoic, a memorial to the Cambrian fauna will be held on the adjacent street, Sedgwick Road.

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, who invented the Permian.


4. The end-Triassic extinction will take place at the Albert Memorial, Kensington.  This is because Friedrich August von Alberti coined the name Triassic.  75-80% of the 17 attendees will disappear, probably as a result of an extremely CAMP volcanic eruption.  This leaves just 4 very fortunate individuals to progress to the final event.

Friedrich von Alberti, who invented the Triassic.

5. The end-Cretaceous extinction will take place at Chalk Farm, with 76% of attendees being squashed by space rock. Afterwards, there will be a rise of the mammals, possibly in an Orwellian manner.  This will be facilitated by the fact that just 1 of the original 10,000 attendees will still be alive, making human re-diversification pretty tricky.

Chalk, which invented the Cretaceous.

Nonetheless, it will be a tremendous day out, and all those left alive at the end will get their money back.


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