New research looks at what part volcanic activity played in the mass extinction, and if it was fueled by the asteroid strike.
Scientists have long blamed a six-mile wide asteroid or some other heavenly body for the extinction of the dinosaurs, but evidence is coming to light that the event may have just set in motion the events that killed off the majority of the Earth’s living species.
A paper published in the journal Science and cited on the csmonitor’s website says the impact of the asteroid may have caused catastrophic volcanic activity that may have caused more lasting impact to the planet than the initial hit.
Some 66 million years ago, a massive rock slammed into the Earth in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering an event that brought about the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs and 70 percent of all life on the planet. That is the dominant theory behind the extinction that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period, a point which geologists refer to as the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, or K-T boundry.
Now evidence is showing that at the same time some 9,000 miles away in India, one of the largest volcano formations on Earth was erupting, spreading lava flow nearly 200,000 square miles and more than a mile thick over an area known as the Deccan Traps.
Volcano eruptions can be massive and have been blamed for other mass extinctions in the planet’s history. Ironically, an eruption about 201 million years ago likely led to the period of time in which the dinosaurs thrived.
While researchers have argued about the actual cause of the dinosaurs dying off, Paul Renne said in an interview that it really comes down to a case of timing. Renne is a geologist and the lead author on the study.
“An impact the size of the one that happened at the K-T boundary, according to what we know, probably happens only once every billion years or so on Earth. It’s really improbable,” says Renne. “The notion that it should coincide with an outburst of volcanism – which is certainly not as rare, but also relatively infrequent – by chance, is really, really small.”