News & AnalysisFALL MEETING OF THE AMERICAN GEOPHYSICAL UNION

Tying Megaeruptions to a Mass Extinction Long After the Fact

Science  21 Dec 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6114, pp. 1522-1523
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6114.1522-b

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Summary

To incriminate a global catastrophe in the extinction of a wide swath of the biosphere, you need precise dates for two events: the catastrophe—say, an asteroid impact or volcanic eruption—and the mass extinction. At the meeting, geochronologists who measure the passage of time in the steady ticking of radioactive decay presented convincing evidence, using impressively precise dating, that massive eruptions at the opening of the Atlantic Ocean 201 million years ago drove the mass extinction that cleared the way for the rise of the dinosaurs.