U-Pb constraints on pulsed eruption of the Deccan Traps across the end-Cretaceous mass extinction

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Science  22 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6429, pp. 862-866
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau2422

Two timelines for extinction

The Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction that wiped out the nonavian dinosaurs 66 million years ago was correlated with two extreme events: The Chicxulub impact occurred at roughly the same time that massive amounts of lava were erupting from the Deccan Traps (see the Perspective by Burgess). Sprain et al. used argon-argon dating of the volcanic ash from the Deccan Traps to argue that a steady eruption of the flood basalts mostly occurred after the Chicxulub impact. Schoene et al. used uranium-lead dating of zircons from ash beds and concluded that four large magmatic pulses occurred during the flood basalt eruption, the first of which preceded the Chicxulub impact. Whatever the correct ordering of events, better constraints on the timing and rates of the eruption will help elucidate how volcanic gas influenced climate.

Science, this issue p. 866, p. 862; see also p. 815


Temporal correlation between some continental flood basalt eruptions and mass extinctions has been proposed to indicate causality, with eruptive volatile release driving environmental degradation and extinction. We tested this model for the Deccan Traps flood basalt province, which, along with the Chicxulub bolide impact, is implicated in the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction approximately 66 million years ago. We estimated Deccan eruption rates with uranium-lead (U-Pb) zircon geochronology and resolved four high-volume eruptive periods. According to this model, maximum eruption rates occurred before and after the K-Pg extinction, with one such pulse initiating tens of thousands of years prior to both the bolide impact and extinction. These findings support extinction models that incorporate both catastrophic events as drivers of environmental deterioration associated with the K-Pg extinction and its aftermath.

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