Scientists have shed new light on the timing and possible cause of major volcanic events that occurred millions of years ago and caused climate and biological disruptions that led to some of the most devastating extinction events in Earth’s history.
Surprisingly, the new research published today in science progressindicates that the slowing down of the continental plates was the critical event that enabled magma to rise to Earth’s surface and produce devastating effects.
Earth’s history has been marked by major volcanic events, called large igneous provinces (LIPs) – the largest of which caused significant increases in carbon emissions to the atmosphere that warmed Earth’s climate, led to unprecedented changes in ecosystems, and led to mass extinctions on Earth and in oceans.
Using chemical data from ancient mud deposits obtained from a 1.5 kilometer deep well in Wales, an international team led by scientists from Trinity College Dublin for Natural Sciences was able to link two major events about 183 million years ago (the Tuarcian period).
The team discovered that this time period was characterized by some of the harshest climatic conditions and environmental changes ever, in direct conjunction with significant volcanic activity and associated greenhouse gas emissions over Southern Hemispherein what is known today as South Africa, Antarctica, and Australia.
Upon further investigation – and more importantly – the team’s plate reconstruction models helped them discover the underlying geologic process that seemed to control the timing and onset of this volcanic and other mega-events.
The team was led by Misha Roll, associate professor at Trinity College of the Natural Sciences. He said: “Scientists have always believed that the beginning of the rise of molten volcanic rocks, or magma, from the depths of the earth’s interior, such as mantle columnswas the instigator of such volcanic activity, but new evidence shows that the normal rate of continental plate movement of several centimeters per year actually prevents magma from penetrating the Earth’s continental crust.
“It appears that only when the velocity of movement of the continental plate slows down to nearly zero, magma from the mantle plumes can effectively make its way to the surface, causing a significant igneous interruption. volcanic eruptions The associated climate disturbances and mass extinctions.
“Importantly, further assessment shows that declines in continental plate movement likely have governed the onset and duration of many major volcanic events throughout Earth’s history, making them an essential process in controlling the evolution of climate and life on Earth over the course of the Earth’s history. this planet.”
Studying past global change events, such as in the Toarcian, allows scientists to separate the different processes that control the causes and consequences of changing the global carbon cycle and constrain the underlying Earth system processes that control tipping points in the Earth’s climate system.
Misha Ruhl, Timing of Low Plate Movement Controlled at Large Volcanic Volcanoes in the Early Jurassic Caro-Ferrar Province, science progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abo0866. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abo0866
Trinity College Dublin
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