U-Pb geochronology of the Deccan Traps and relation to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction

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Science  09 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6218, pp. 182-184
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0118

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Dating the influence of Deccan Traps eruptions

The Deccan Traps flood basalts in India represent over a million cubic kilometers of erupted lava. These massive eruptions occurred around the same time as the end-Cretaceous mass extinction some 65 million years ago, which famously wiped out all nonavian dinosaurs. Schoene et al. determined the precise timing and duration of the main phase of the eruptions, which lasted over 750,000 years and occurred just 250,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. The relative contribution of these eruptions and of the Chicxulub impact in Mexico to the mass extinction remains unclear, but both provide potential kill mechanisms.

Science, this issue p. 182


The Chicxulub asteroid impact (Mexico) and the eruption of the massive Deccan volcanic province (India) are two proposed causes of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, which includes the demise of nonavian dinosaurs. Despite widespread acceptance of the impact hypothesis, the lack of a high-resolution eruption timeline for the Deccan basalts has prevented full assessment of their relationship to the mass extinction. Here we apply uranium-lead (U-Pb) zircon geochronology to Deccan rocks and show that the main phase of eruptions initiated ~250,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary and that >1.1 million cubic kilometers of basalt erupted in ~750,000 years. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the Deccan Traps contributed to the latest Cretaceous environmental change and biologic turnover that culminated in the marine and terrestrial mass extinctions.

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