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Australian Volcanoes Caused First Mass Extinction

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Ancient volcanic eruptions in Australia 510 million years ago significantly affected the climate, causing the first known mass extinction in the history of complex life according to research published in Geology.

A/Prof Fred Jourdan from Curtin University’s Department of Applied Geology, along with colleagues from several Australian and international institutions, used radioactive dating techniques to precisely measure the age of the eruptions of the Kalkarindji volcanic province, where lavas covered an area of more than 2 million km2 in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The researchers found that the volcanic province was emplaced at the same time as the Early–Middle Cambrian extinction 510–511 million years ago – the first extinction to wipe out complex multicellular life.

“It has been well-documented that this extinction, which eradicated 50% of species, was related to climatic changes and depletion of oxygen in the oceans, but the exact mechanism causing these changes was not known until now,” Jourdan said. “Not only were we able to demonstrate that the Kalkarindji volcanic province was emplaced at the exact same time as the Cambrian extinction, but we were also able to measure a depletion of sulfur dioxide from the province’s volcanic rocks – which indicates sulfur was released into the atmosphere during the eruptions.

“As a modern...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.