Not an asteroid but massive volcanic eruptions in India might have set off mass extinction 66 million years ago
- New evidence has been found the support the theory that a series of volcanic eruptions in the Deccan Traps might have triggered Earth’s mass extinction 66 million years ago.
- Volcanoes, like the Deccan Traps, are the largest source of mercury in the atmosphere.
- Fossils find that at the time of the eruptions — tens of thousands of years before the
asteroidimpact — had a profound and long-lasting impact on the world.
These eruptions began tens of thousands of years before the asteroid impact. They form what is now known as the Deccan Traps in southwestern India. The lava flowing from them covered nearly 1.5 million kilometres — approximately half the size of the peninsula.
AdvertisementMarine mossulk shell fossils from 66 million years ago found by the University of Michigan indicate that the eruption had a ‘profound, long-lasting and global’ impact on the world — enough to light the match of mass extinction.
"For the first time, we can provide insights into the distinct climatic and environmental impacts of Deccan Traps volcanism by analysing a single material," said Kyle Meyer, lead author of the study.
How can volcanoes set off mass extinctions?
Volcanoes are the largest source of mercury in the atmosphere — a toxic trace metal that poses a grave threat to human health, and wildlife in general — in addition to the substantial amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide they spew.
So, theoretically, when the Deccan Traps erupted, they filled the atmosphere with a host of lethal gases. The sulfur fumes were enough to turn the oceans to acid and kill three-quarters of the Earth’s population.
And, new fossils found by researchers, indicates that to be true. The shells act as pre-historic record of temperature and mercury.
And, they signal two things. There was an abrupt ocean warming at the time and, the mercury concentration in the atmosphere was elevated. It was so high that it matched levels of ‘significant modern industrial mercury contamination’.
Studying the shells
Before researchers fold marine mollusk shell fossils from 66 million years ago, records of environmental mercury have largely been based on marine sediments. But, they have never been able to establish changes in the mercury levels as a response to changes in the climate.
AdvertisementThis is the first time that the indicator for both events has been found in the same specimen.
The new fossils gave them an opportunity to assemble the first-ever deep-time record of mercury preserved in fossilized remains, while also determining marine temperature using a technique called carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometry.
According to their results, an abrupt global warming event took place 250 thousand years before the dinosaur-ending
AdvertisementThe Deccan Trap eruptions were also what reportedly broke up the
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