Sulfur and Chlorine in Late Cretaceous Deccan Magmas and Eruptive Gas Release

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Science  21 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5870, pp. 1654-1657
DOI: 10.1126/science.1152830

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Large-volume pāhoehoe lava flows erupted 67 to 65 million years ago, forming the Deccan Traps, India. The impact of these flood basalt eruptions on the global atmosphere and the coeval end-Cretaceous mass extinction has been uncertain. To assess the potential gas release from this volcanism, we measured sulfur and chlorine concentrations in rare glass inclusions inside crystals and on glassy selvages preserved within lavas. Concentrations range from ∼1400 parts per million of S and 900 parts per million of Cl in inclusions down to a few hundred parts per million in the lava. These data indicate that eruptions of Deccan lavas could have released at most 0.103 weight % of S, yielding up to 5.4 teragrams of SO2 per cubic kilometer of lava. A more conservative estimate is 0.07 weight % of S and 0.04 weight % of Cl, yielding 3.5 teragrams of SO2 and 1 teragram of HCl for every cubic kilometer of lava erupted. The flows were very large in volume, and these results imply that huge amounts of S and Cl gases were released. The environmental impact from even individual eruptions during past flood basalt activity was probably severe.

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