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Asteroid Crash Kicked Off Mega-Volcano in the Process that Killed Dinosaurs, According to New Study

By Rachel Ewing
Office of University Communications


May 6, 2015

 

The entire mountainous region shown here is part of the Deccan Traps, showing the characteristic stair-like ridges of lava flows. This photo is from near the town of Mahabaleshwar. Credit: Loÿc Vanderkluysen

The entire mountainous region shown here is part of the Deccan Traps, showing the characteristic stair-like ridges of lava flows.
This photo is from near the town of Mahabaleshwar. Credit: Loÿc Vanderkluysen

When an enormous asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, a planet-wide quake shook the magma plumbing of a massive, active volcano—radically changing the style of volcanic eruption in one of the planet’s rarest, largest lava flows. This is the sequence of events supported by a new study published last week in the Geological Society of America Bulletin by a team of scientists, including Drexel University volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen and led by geologists at UC Berkeley.

Evidence for this colossal, catastrophic chain reaction came from geological features of a massive lava flow field in central-southern India known as the Deccan Traps. The lava that flowed there was so abundant that an area the size of Texas would have been submerged a mile deep.

This lava flow event, which lasted for half a million years or more during which hundreds of flows were emplaced, occurred very close, in geologic time, to the major asteroid strike off the coast of Mexico 66 million years ago, and to the resulting mass extinction of most life on Earth, including the dinosaurs. So temporally close to it that, for a time, it was believed possible that the asteroid strike caused the eruption.

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