May 29, 2009

Volcanic Eruption In China May Have Caused Mass Extinction

According to a new study, volcanic eruptions in what is now present-day China may have been the cause of mass extinction 260 million years ago.

The Guadalupian Mass Extinction, which devastated marine life around the world, was preceded by eruptions in the Emeishan province of Southwest China, said Paul Wignall, paleontologist from the University of Leeds.

According to the report, which appears in Friday's edition of the journal Science, the eruption in China unleashed nearly a half million cubic kilometers of lava.

Wignall and his team of researchers were able to pinpoint the exact timing of the eruption thanks to a layer of fossilized rock which showed mass extinction of different marine life.

"The abrupt extinction of marine life we can clearly see in the fossil record firmly links giant volcanic eruptions with global environmental catastrophe," said Wignall, lead author of the study.

The eruption also spit huge quantities of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere as flowing lava collided with the shallow sea water.

The collision could have created a massive cloud formation around the world, producing acid rain and cooling the earth.

"When fast flowing, low viscosity magma meets shallow sea it's like throwing water into a chip pan "“ there's spectacular explosion producing gigantic clouds of steam," said Wignall.

The researchers do not have cause-and-effect proof that the explosion caused a global mass extinction, but they believe their study "provides evidence for a potential link between mass extinction and the eruption."


On the Net: