Research

About 252 million years ago, the largest mass extinction and the largest volcanic eruptions in Earth history occurred apparently synchronously:

  • Worldwide 90% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species went extint.
  • In Siberia 6,000,000 cubic kilometers of magma erupted, enough to cover the continental U.S. to almost a mile in depth.

Is it coincidence or causality? We have a hypothesis, and it ties closely with current climate changes.

The ca 252 Ma Siberian large igneous province contains what may be the largest eruption of continental basaltic magma known on Earth, yet its cause, depth of origin, relationship to global tectonics, climate, and ecosystems remain poorly understood. We have assembled an international team of 28 scientists from 8 countries to gain an integrated understanding of this large igneous province, from its origin to short- and long-term effects on the Earth system. Five years of funding has been granted by the National Science Foundation Continental Dynamics program.

The possible relationship between the Siberian large igneous province and the end-Permian extinction, the most significant mass extinction in Earth history, has been discussed for more than a decade. Over this decade detailed study of the end-Permian extinction has allowed construction of a high-precision timeline for extinction, recovery, and large-scale perturbations of the carbon cycle from ca 255-247 Ma. No definitive causal mechanism has been described, however, and exact temporal coincidence has not been demonstrated through geochronology and magnetostratigraphy, and a detailed timeline of the extinction has not been linked to the tempo of the igneous event.

Our project will focus on:

  1. The rates of eruption of the tuffs and lavas, and the dates of the intrusive rocks
  2. The possible volatile emissions of the tuffs and the country rocks the lavas erupted through
  3. An initial integrated seismic, gravity, magnetic, and geodynamic investigation of the Siberian lithosphere
  4. Climate modeling and the effects of carbon and sulfur injections into the atmosphere