New evidence about the extinction of dinosaurs

New evidence about the extinction of dinosaurs

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Deccan Traps An overview of a large fiery province. (a) Current distribution of Deccan fisheries in India. The samples examined in this study come from the WG Escarpment, where the thickest and most complete lava piles are preserved. (b) Schematic diagram of the volcanic stratigraphy of the Main Deccan Volcanic Province (MDVP) in the working group. Ten lava formations and three subgroups are reported as well as the number of samples analyzed for each formation. In this list, and in the dataset, we have included three samples (D231, D241, and D244) collected in Mahabaleshwar that were previously analyzed by our group. credit: Advancement of science (2023). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adg8284

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Deccan Traps An overview of a large fiery province. (a) Current distribution of Deccan fisheries in India. The samples examined in this study come from the WG Escarpment, where the thickest and most complete lava piles are preserved. (b) Schematic diagram of the volcanic stratigraphy of the Main Deccan Volcanic Province (MDVP) in the working group. Ten lava formations and three subgroups are reported as well as the number of samples analyzed for each formation. In this list, and in the dataset, we have included three samples (D231, D241, and D244) collected in Mahabaleshwar that were previously analyzed by our group. credit: Advancement of science (2023). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adg8284

What wiped out the dinosaurs? A new study suggests that the meteorite falling to Earth is only part of the story. Climate change caused by massive volcanic eruptions may have ultimately paved the way for the extinction of the dinosaurs, challenging the traditional narrative that a meteorite alone dealt the final blow to the ancient giants.

This is according to a study published in Advancement of science Co-authored by Don Baker, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University. The paper is titled “Recurring volcanic winters during the Late Cretaceous: Sulfur and fluorine budgets in Deccan Traps lava.”

The research team looked at volcanic eruptions in the Deccan Traps, a vast, rugged plateau in western India formed from molten lava. Its eruption of 1 million cubic kilometers of rock may have played a major role in cooling the global climate about 65 million years ago.

This work took researchers from all over the world, from hammering rocks in the Deccan traps to analyzing samples in England and Sweden.

“Volcanic Winter”: a new season?

In the laboratory, scientists estimated how much sulfur and fluorine were injected into the atmosphere by massive volcanic eruptions during the 200,000 years before the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Remarkably, they found that the release of sulfur could lead to a global drop in temperatures around the world, a phenomenon known as volcanic winter.

“Our research shows that climatic conditions were almost certainly unstable, with frequent volcanic winters that could have lasted decades, before the extinction of the dinosaurs. This instability would have made life difficult for all plants and animals and paved the way for the extinction of the dinosaurs,” the professor said. Don Baker: “Our work helps explain this major extinction event that led to the emergence of mammals and the evolution of our species.”

Uncovering the clues inside ancient rock samples was no easy feat. In fact, a new technique developed at McGill has helped decipher volcanic history.

The technology for estimating sulfur and fluorine emissions – a complex mix of chemistry and experiments – is a bit like cooking pasta.

“Imagine making pasta at home. You boil water, add salt, then pasta. Some of the salt from the water goes into the pasta, but not a lot of it,” Baker explains.

Likewise, some elements become trapped in minerals when they cool after a volcanic eruption. Just as you can calculate salt concentrations in the water in which pasta is cooked by analyzing the salt in the pasta itself, the new technique has allowed scientists to measure sulfur and fluorine in rock samples. With this information, scientists were able to calculate the amount of these gases emitted during explosions.

The study included researchers from Italy, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Their findings represent a step forward in piecing together Earth’s ancient secrets and pave the way for a more informed approach to our changing climate.

more information:
Sarah Calligaro et al., Recurrent Volcanic Winters during the Late Cretaceous: Sulfur and Fluorine Budgets in Deccan Traps Lava, Advancement of science (2023). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adg8284

Magazine information:
Advancement of science

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