Back from the dead

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Science  12 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6215, pp. 1281-1283
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6215.1281

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Forged nearly 66 million years ago in one of the largest episodes of volcanism in Earth history, the rugged Deccan Plateau in southwestern India is ground zero for a long-running and bitter scientific debate, centered on the cataclysmic extinctions that took place at roughly the same time. One camp argues that Deccan volcanism spewed enough carbon dioxide to send temperatures soaring globally while sulfur fumes turned the oceans to acid, with lethal results for three-quarters of Earth's life forms, including all nonavian dinosaurs. The other camp, in the ascendancy for decades, blames the die-off on a single killer: the impact of an asteroid. Online this week in Science, volcanism gets a big boost, and so does one of the most contentious figures in the debate, Princeton University paleontologist Gerta Keller. In the paper, she and her colleagues report precise dates for the main phase of Deccan volcanism. Countering claims that the lava outpouring took place too early to have played any role in the extinctions, they show that it straddles the geological moment when many creatures from the age of dinosaurs vanish from the fossil record.

  • * in Maharashtra state, India

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