Volcanic activity is to blame for the mass extinction of dinosaurs and others

It seems that asteroids fell into discredit.
Deniz Yildiran
Dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex on top of a mountain rock.
Dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex on top of a mountain rock.


Is it the celestial bodies that crashed into Earth and made dinosaurs disappear into thin air, or is it lava spreading across acres and swallowing those giants whole?

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America suggests that volcanic activity is the main cause of mass extinctions that took place millions of years ago.

Researchers revealed that four out of the five mass extinction events occurred at the same time with flood basalt, a type of volcanic eruption that flood a wide range of areas with lava in a million years. After eruptions wreak havoc, they leave behind regions of step-like, igneous rock – scientists call those large igneous provinces. These provinces must contain at least 100,000 cubic kilometers of magma in order to be named “large.”

“It seems like these large igneous provinces line up in time with mass extinctions and other significant climatic and environmental events,” Theodore Green, lead author of the paper, says.

However, there is strong evidence that asteroid impact was the one to blame for the demise of dinosaurs when an asteroid hit the Earth nearly 66 million years ago and brought about the Chicxulub crater in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to form, according to researchers. It coincides with the time when dinosaurs vanished at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

Assistant Professor of Earth Sciences, Brenhin Keller, implies that there’s very little evidence to point out similar impact events that are in line with the time period when other mass extinctions occurred.

Erupting volcanoes vs. deadly celestial bodies

So as to test out whether it was a coincidence that mass extinctions took place at the same time as volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, Green teamed up with Keller and co-author Paul Renne, professor of Earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley and tapped into supercomputers at the Dartmouth Discovery Cluster.

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The team compared the best available estimates of the eruptions along with the extinctions in the geological timescale that also included the top five mass extinction events. They tried to see whether the eruptions would align with a randomly generated pattern, repeating the trial with 100 million similar patterns.

“Less than 1% of the simulated timelines agreed as well as the actual record of flood basalts and extinctions, suggesting the relationship is not just random chance,” said Green.

However, to reinforce the link between eruptions and mass extinction, researchers sorted the volcanic events according to their lava-spewing rate and revealed that the ones that had the highest eruptive rates caused the most destruction to life.

“Our results make it hard to ignore the role of volcanism in extinction,” says Keller.

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