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A new destination for disaster enthusiasts

The Deccan Traps today. Photo courtesy of Mark Richards

The Deccan Traps today. Photo courtesy of Mark Richards

The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg or K-T) mass extinction — the event in which the non-avian dinosaurs, along with about 70% of all species in the fossil record went extinct — was probably caused by the Chicxulub meteor impact in Yucatán, México. However, scientists have long wondered about the massive volcanic eruptions that were occurring in northwestern India at about the same time, the Deccan Traps. Volcanism is the likely cause of several prior mass extinctions, with no convincing evidence for impacts. Was the aligned timing of these events at K-T time (asteroid impact, extinction, and volcanism) pure coincidence? I am part of a diverse research team, which includes UCMP associates Paul Renne and Walter Alvarez, working on an NSF-funded project that seeks to answer this question using many different lines of evidence.

We are more precisely dating Deccan lavas, analyzing new rock samples from onshore field work and offshore drilling, and performing geophysical modeling in an effort to figure out how an asteroid impact, a mass extinction, and volcanism might or might not be tied together. Work so far suggests that the main phase of these volcanic eruptions, the largest of the past 100 million years of Earth history, correspond with ever-increasing precision in time with the Chicxulub meteor impact in Yucatán, México, and therefore also to the extermination of the non-avian dinosaurs and about 70% of all species in the fossil record 66.04 (+/-.03) million years ago. The tantalizing implication is that the meteor impact caused a factor of 2-3 increase in the lava flow rate, greatly increasing the likely environmental damage from release of volcanic gases and aerosols. Thus, the alignment of these disastrous events does not seem to be coincidental!

I’d like to invite the UCMP community to follow our ongoing research on our new websitewhere we will present the activities and scientific results of our project to explore the nature, physical mechanisms, and precise timing of the Deccan Traps flood basalts. There, we will keep you up to date with our fieldwork, geophysical modeling, geochemical and geochronological analyses, and our database and publications, as well as highlight the many individuals involved in the project, including graduate students, postdocs, and a number of distinguished international collaborators. Come visit us at disaster central: https://deccan.berkeley.edu/

Researchers Tushar Mittal, Courtney Sprain, Loÿc Vanderkluyson, Paul Renne, me (Mark Richards), and Kanchan Pande visiting a step well near our field site in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, India. The carved stones behind us are not Deccan basalts, but they are very impressive!

Researchers Tushar Mittal, Courtney Sprain, Loÿc Vanderkluyson, Paul Renne, me (Mark Richards), and Kanchan Pande visiting a step well near our field site in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, India. The carved stones behind us are not Deccan basalts, but they are very impressive!