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Volcanic cause for end-Triassic mass extinction: flood basalts strike again 23 March 2010

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The volcanic activity that created the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) around 200 million years ago was associated with the break-up of the supercontinent Pangaea: around 11 million square kilometres of lava (map) was erupted over a hectic period of perhaps less than 1 million years.

A new study published in PNAS argues for a connection between climate change associated with the CAMP flood basalt and the End-Triassic Extinction, or ETE, which left the dinosaurs as the dominant vertebrates on land (or, as Wired Science puts it, ‘Dinosaurs rode volcanic armageddon to victory‘). The study looked at organic carbon bedded within CAMP lava flows from terrestrial and marine locations, in eastern North America and the southern coast of England. To quote the abstract:

Based on these results, the ETE began synchronously in marine and terrestrial environments slightly before the oldest basalts in eastern North America but simultaneous with the eruption of the oldest flows in Morocco, a CO2 super greenhouse, and marine biocalcification crisis. Because the temporal relationship between CAMP eruptions, mass extinction, and the carbon isotopic excursions are shown in the same place, this is the strongest case for a volcanic cause of a mass extinction to date.

(No, the End-Triassic Extinction was not caused by volcanoes that erupt coal. That was the mass extinction event at the Permian-Triassic Boundary, which killed all the dinosaurs before they had evolved. Thanks, Fox News.)

  • Jessica H. Whiteside, Paul E. Olsen, Timothy Eglinton, Michael E. Brookfield & Raymond N. Sambrotto, ‘Compound-specific carbon isotopes from Earth’s largest flood basalt eruptions directly linked to the end-Triassic mass extinction’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 16 March 2010 [doi: 10.1073/pnas.1001706107]. Click here for abstract.

Brown University-led team explains how dinosaurs rose to prominence – Brown University press release, 9 March 2010
Volcanoes helped dinosaurs rule the Earth, say scientistsThe Guardian, 22 March 2010
Dinosaurs rode volcanic armageddon to victoryWired Science, 22 March 2010
Dinosaurs’ dominance ‘helped by mass volcanism’ – BBC News, 22 March 2010

The Volcanism Blog



1. Lady In A Lab - 23 March 2010

I was interested in the fact that Brown University included a very large photograph of Prof. Whiteside with their press release, and that it’s called ‘whiteside heat shot.jpg’. I don’t think that’s a mistyping of ‘head shot’ because the picture does not just show her head:

Whiteside heat shot.jpg

I guess it must be something to do with giving women scientists a higher profile.

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