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The Adam Lambert of Volcanic Extinctions

You know, second place finishers are usually forgotten pretty quickly, unless of course you’re Adam Lambert or Susan Boyle.

This also isn’t true for the Second Biggest extinction the earth has ever seen which has been in the news lately. Specifically, a volcanic eruption that had been previously unknown, is apparently responsible for what may be the 2nd biggest global mass extinction that happened over 260 million years ago during the middle of the Permian period.

This story was recently published in the Journal Science by scientists at the University of Leeds. Now this wasn’t the biggest volcanic eruption ever but it was still pretty nasty.

It’s called the Guadalupian mass extinction and it wiped out more than half of the life on earth while spewing out ½ million cubic kilometers of lava over half a million years. This sounds like a flood basalt volcano to me. They are a variety of super-volcano that gives and then just keeps on giving. They open a literal crack in the earth’s crust and belch lava for centuries. Then they take a little break before starting up again. I read a description of these once. Imagine a curtain of lava a mile high extending from horizon to horizon. Someone has to make a movie with this in it.

This specific flood-basalt volcano erupted in Southwest China when all the earth’s continents were smooshed together in one supercontinent called Pangea.

The impact to the planet was obviously huge. The lava quickly hit nearby shallow seas which was like putting a mountain sized  mentos candy into an ocean of soda. The reaction pumped lots of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere which formed clouds, cooled the earth and sent down acid rain all over the world. It took ½ million years for life to recover from this debacle.

The take-home here though is that these scientists are claiming that they have the first ever direct link between a volcano and an extinction. Since the eruption took place near shallow seas, the remains look like a nice lava sandwich…igneous rock (the cooled lava meat) is between layers of sedimentary rock (the bread).  So, in a relatively short span of geologic time scientists find fossil rock, then the lava rock, then the fossil rock again but with far fewer fossils in it.

Palaeontologist Professor Paul Wignall who teaches at the University of Leeds in Leeds, U.K said:
“This link between the extinction and the volcanoes are perfect,”

If you ever want to see the results of a flood basalt super volcano, you don’t have to travel to China or anywhere else on the panet. Just  look up at the moon and look at its maria or seas which are the dark relatively smooth patches. Then be hopeful that you never see one of these erupting for real.

3 comments to The Adam Lambert of Volcanic Extinctions

  • Drum Billet

    “Imagine a curtain of lava a mile high extending from horizon to horizon.”

    That sounds awesome.

    Maybe we’ll get to see that in 2012.

  • The Blind Watchmaker

    “Are you in good hands?”

  • DLC

    “imagine a curtain of lava .. . ”
    “picture if you will, a man watching a curtain rise. but this is no ordinary cloth covering a scene, but a curtain of lava a mile high… a curtain that covers the opening scene of . . . The Twilight Zone! ” Also known as an extinction-level event.

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