A recent study reveals that climate change, triggered by massive volcanic eruptions in India, played a more significant role than previously thought in the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction, which famously ended the dinosaurs‘ reign 66 million years ago.
For decades, the story of the dinosaurs’ demise was seemingly clear-cut: a colossal meteorite struck Earth, marking the end of these ancient giants.
However, a recent study published in Science Advances offers a compelling twist to this narrative, highlighting the critical role of climate change in the extinction of dinosaurs.
The findings offer not just a piece of paleontological trivia but also profound insights into the interconnectedness of Earth’s systems, offering lessons for our current climate crisis.
An international team of researchers from Italy, Norway, Sweden, the U.K., the United States, and Canada focused on the history of the Deccan Traps in India, a large volcanic province in present-day India.
The Deccan Traps region was formed by immense volcanic eruptions, witnessing the discharge of about one million cubic kilometers of rock roughly 66.25 million years ago. Researchers theorized this activity could have been a critical factor leading up to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, alongside the well-known asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Mexico.
Analyzing sulfur and fluorine content in the lava flows of the Western Ghats, researchers discovered high sulfur levels in lavas erupted shortly before the mass extinction. This significant eruption of volcanic gasses would have triggered a series of ‘volcanic winters,’ leading to a drastic global temperature drop.
Such harsh climatic conditions would have created an unstable environment and significantly stressed ecosystems before the asteroid’s impact delivered the final blow.
“Our data suggest that volcanic sulfur degassing from such activity could have caused repeated short-lived global drops in temperature, stressing the ecosystems long before the bolide impact delivered its final blow at the end of the Cretaceous,” researchers wrote.
Researchers’ approach involved in-depth geochemical analysis of the Deccan lavas, using state-of-the-art techniques like synchrotron light x-ray fluorescence and secondary ion mass spectrometry. This enabled them to pinpoint sulfur and fluorine concentrations in the volcanic material with unprecedented precision.
Interestingly, the volcanic fluorine levels were variable and likely had a regional environmental impact. While fluorine is less volatile and less likely to have a global effect, high concentrations in specific lava flows suggest localized ecological changes could have occurred, including acid rain and fluorosis, affecting both plant and animal life.
So, while an asteroid impact has long been considered the primary cause of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, analysis of the geological record of the Deccan Traps region has now added a new layer of complexity to the understanding of the dramatic events that cleared the path for the rise of mammals and, eventually, humans.
Most significantly, these findings underscore that the dinosaurs’ extinction was not a singular event caused solely by a meteorite impact. Instead, it was a more complex phenomenon where climate change, driven by natural forces, played a crucial role. This revelation is particularly striking as it mirrors today’s challenges with human-induced climate change.
Ultimately, this recent study not only unravels the mysteries of our planet’s turbulent past but also serves as a reminder of the dynamic and interconnected nature of Earth’s geological and biological systems.
By studying past events like the Deccan Traps eruptions, scientists hope we can gain insights into how similar phenomena might affect our planet today and in the future.
Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative reporter and co-founder of The Debrief. His writing typically focuses on defense, national security, the Intelligence Community and topics related to psychology. You can follow Tim on Twitter:@LtTimMcMillan. Tim can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or through encrypted email:LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com