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Dinosaurs May Have Become Extinct Due to Volcanic Eruptions, Study Claims

Depiction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex Dinosaur
According to computer analysis, the mass extinction of dinosaurs may have been significantly influenced by volcanic eruptions. Credit: James St. John / Flickr CC BY 2.0

Computer analysis suggests volcanic eruptions may have played a significant role in the mass extinction of dinosaurs.

The findings were published in the September 29th issue of Science. According to the study, vast quantities of gas emissions released from the gas-laden lava during the the Deccan Traps eruptions in Western India could have been the primary driving force behind the extinction. These events likely spanned nearly a million years.

The study particularly focused on carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide released during eruptions, as these gases are known for their role in climate change and ocean acidification.

Previous studies have focused on determining the timing of lava flows during the Deccan Traps eruptions. However, this time, researchers adopted a different tactic by employing a statistical model called a Markov Chain Monte Carlo approach to evaluate various scenarios of gas emissions from both the asteroid impact and volcanic eruptions. Such an approach systematically considers the probabilities of various gas emission scenarios, aligning with geologic observations.

The use of 128 parallel processors ensured increased efficiency in the particular study. This led to a substantial reduction in the time needed for complex computations.

Researchers relied on data from sediment cores collected from the deep ocean, dating back 67 to 65 million years ago. These cores contained foraminifera, microscopic ocean-dwelling organisms with carbonate shells that preserve information pertaining to past ocean conditions, global temperatures, and carbon cycling.

Computer simulations suggested volcanic emissions alone caused the observed temperature changes. Additionally, they played a significant role in altering carbon cycling.
This calls into question the asteroid’s role in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Continuous Doubts About Volcanic Eruptions

However, not all scientists are convinced that this study proves dinosaurs died out due to volcanic eruptions. Sierra Petersen, a geochemist at the University of Michigan, highlighted limitations of the research. She pointed out that foraminifera shells may not be ideal temperature proxies, as their oxygen isotope ratios can change due to other factors, such as seawater composition.

Petersen also suggested that the asteroid impact may not have caused significant gas release. However, it doesn’t rule out other harmful environmental effects the impact might have caused.

Clay Tabor, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Connecticut, has also emphasized that the study may not capture the rapid rates of change associated with the asteroid impact. According to Tabor, while the impact might have released fewer gases overall, its rapid release could have certainly had other general devastating consequences.

Whether asteroid or volcanic eruptions, there is continuous open debate as to the actual reason that the dinosaurs were ultimately wiped out.

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