How the Dinosaurs Became Extinct: Massive Volcanic Eruptions and a Meteorite

First Posted: Dec 23, 2014 06:23 AM EST

What caused the dinosaurs to go extinct? It may not just be due to an impact from a meteor. Scientists have found that a series of massive volcanic explosions 66 million years ago may have helped spell the end of the dinosaurs.

In order to better understand Earth's history, the researchers gauged the age of petrified lava flows. This revealed exactly when these flows took place, and showed that they occurred before the mass extinction event that caused the fall of dinosaurs.

About 250,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event, a primeval volcanic range in India, called the Deccan Traps, began its main phase of eruptions. For the next 750,000 years, the volcanoes unleashed more than 264,000 cubic miles of lava.

"We need to know which events happened first and how long before other events, such as when did the Deccan eruptions happen in relation to the K-Pg extinction," said Blair Schoene, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We're not able to place a higher resolution timeframe on these eruptions and are one step closer to finding out what the individual effects of the Deccan Traps eruptions were relative to the Chicxulub meteorite."

The findings support the idea that the Deccan Traps played a role in the K-Pg extinction. More specifically, they challenge the idea that the meteorite impact near Chicxulub, Mexico was the sole cause of the extinction. Instead, it's very likely that both of these events contributed to the massive extinction that helped wipe out the animals on Earth.

"The precedent is there in Earth history that significant climate change and biotic turnover can result from massive volcanic eruptions, and therefore the effect of the Deccan Traps on late-Cretaceous ecosystems should be considered, "said Schoene.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

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