Research Article

Zircon U-Pb Geochronology Links the End-Triassic Extinction with the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province

Science  24 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6135, pp. 941-945
DOI: 10.1126/science.1234204

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Life Versus the Volcanoes

Correlating a specific triggering event, such as an asteroid impact or massive volcanism, to mass extinction events is clouded by the difficulty in precisely timing their occurrence in the geologic record. Based on rock samples collected in North America and Morocco, Blackburn et al. (p. 941, published online 21 March) acquired accurate ages for events surrounding the mass extinction that occurred ∼201 million years ago, between the Triassic and Jurassic Periods. The timing of the disappearance of marine and land fossils and geochemical evidence of the sequential eruption of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province imply a strong causal relationship.

Abstract

The end-Triassic extinction is characterized by major losses in both terrestrial and marine diversity, setting the stage for dinosaurs to dominate Earth for the next 136 million years. Despite the approximate coincidence between this extinction and flood basalt volcanism, existing geochronologic dates have insufficient resolution to confirm eruptive rates required to induce major climate perturbations. Here, we present new zircon uranium-lead (U-Pb) geochronologic constraints on the age and duration of flood basalt volcanism within the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. This chronology demonstrates synchroneity between the earliest volcanism and extinction, tests and corroborates the existing astrochronologic time scale, and shows that the release of magma and associated atmospheric flux occurred in four pulses over about 600,000 years, indicating expansive volcanism even as the biologic recovery was under way.

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