© Randall Carlson Newsletter - March 2024
Last month, in the February 2024 issue of the Kosmographia Newsletter I reported on new research correlating a series of large-scale igneous events which produced the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) and the Siberian Traps with mass extinction episodes. On February 8 another paper was published in the journal Global and Planetary Change which further supports correlations between mass extinction episodes with gigantic volcanic eruptions and catastrophic cosmic impacts. The lead author of the paper is Michael Rampino, who has for decades been in the forefront of researching catastrophic events in Earth history. I have been following his work since the early 1980s and hold him in high regard as a scientist who is willing to think outside established paradigms of Earth history. The abstract to the paper begins:

"We find that Large Igneous Province (LIP) volcanism, mostly continental flood basalts (CFBs), along with the largest extraterrestrial impacts show significant correlations with mass-extinction events in the Phanerozoic geologic record. The ages of the 6 major marine mass extinctions (≥ 40% extinction of genera) of the last 541 MY ̶ the end-Ordovician (~444 Ma), late Devonian (~ 372 Ma), end-Guadalupian (~259 Ma), end-Permian (~ 252 Ma), end-Triassic (~201 Ma), and end-Cretaceous (66 Ma) extinctions are significantly correlated with high-quality U — Pb zircon and 40Ar/39Ar ages of 6 continental flood basalts (CFBs) ̶ the Cape St. Mary's, Viluy, Emeishan, Siberian, CAMP, and the Deccan Basalts.

U — Pb zircon dating (Uranium-lead) is a widely used method for dating metamorphic rocks typically employing a thermal ionization mass spectrometer. Zircon is used because it includes uranium and thorium atoms in its crystalline structure when forming but rejects lead, so any lead found in a zircon crystal is radiogenic, meaning it results from radioactive decay. Argon dating can measure Argon isotopes from a single mineral grain. The ratio of Argon 40 to Argon 39 yields the age of the sample.

The extinctions listed above are considered to be major events in the history of life on Earth. A number of less severe extinctions have taken place, although these events are somewhat more difficult to discern in the geologic/palaeontologic record. Nevertheless, a correlation can be discerned between these extinctions and both volcanic eruptions and cosmic impact.

Rampino et al. explain:

"Furthermore, ages of 6 minor extinction events (15% to 25% extinction of marine genera) at 94 Ma, ~124 Ma, ~134 Ma, ~183 Ma, ~290 Ma, and ~510 Ma also coincided with 6 well-dated CFB eruptions (the Madagascar, HALIP, Parana/Etendeka, Karoo/Ferrar, Panjal and Kakarindji Basalts).

I supplied the names of the basaltic eruptions so that readers who are so inclined can look them up to learn more. Briefly, the Madagascar flood basalts were emplaced during the late Cretaceous period and as the name would suggest, are found as part of the island of Madagascar. HALIP stands for High Arctic Large Igneous Province, also Cretaceous in age and is found in the Canadian Arctic Islands.

Rampino and colleagues explain that:

"The four major marine mass extinctions of the last 300 My (since the origin of non-marine vertebrates) at 66, 201, 252, and ~260 Ma, and a minor extinct at ~290 Ma, were apparently all accompanied by coincident episodes of extinction of non-marine vertebrates, suggesting severe global environmental crises as the cause of the coincident marine and non-marine extinctions."

The two most frequently proposed causes for these mass extinction episodes in Earth history are volcanism and large extraterrestrial impacts. Large scale volcanic events, which involve extrusion of greater than a million cubic kilometers of basaltic magma, is capable of producing oceanic hyperthermal/anoxia on a global scale, along with extreme ocean acidification and the release of greenhouse gases on a massive scale. Injection of stratospheric sulphate aerosols can cause the onset of a "volcanic winter" while severely depleting the ozone layer which results in increased UV-B radiation. Given the litany of disastrous effects produced by large scale volcanism it is no wonder that it is associated with mass die-offs of species, both marine and terrestrial. Ditto for large impact events which can ignite huge wildfires on a global scale, accompanied by injection of soot and particulate matter on a scale that can result in an "impact winter."

Below is a chart showing both major and "minor" extinction level events and their close correlation both Large Igneous Province formation and extraterrestrial impacts. The red stars indicate timing of the impacts.

Extinction Events
© Randall Carlson Newsletter -March 2024
In their conclusions Rampino and colleagues reiterate that improved dating technology applied to mass extinctions, extraterrestrial impacts and volcanism have resulted in a greater than 99.99 percent confidence of a correlation. So, evidence now supports the conclusion that both endogenic phenomena (originating from within the Earth) and exogenic (originating from outside the Earth) have been responsible for the great resets of life on Earth. It is overwhelmingly clear at this point that catastrophic events have been the major influence on the evolution of Life on Earth. What is also becoming increasingly clear is that there have been catastrophic events too numerous to count. While many of these lesser magnitude events may not have had a level of severity capable of producing a mass extinction episode, they could nonetheless have profound effects on the stability or survivability of human civilization. In fact, it is now almost certain that natural catastrophes can cause, and have caused, the extinction of human civilizations throughout history, and, that there is no reason to assume that such catastrophes will not happen in the future. The question is not if, but when.

Given the hysteria over anthropogenic climate change and the utter waste of resources and human capital in destructive, never-ending wars, and all the other things distracting the attention of mankind, we might question whether or not we will be prepared for the next catastrophe nature throws at us.


See: Rampino, Michael R., Ken Caldeira, Sedelia Rodriquez (2024) Sixteen mass extinctions of the past 541 My correlated with 15 pulses of Large Igneous Province (LIP) volcanism and the 4 largest extraterrestrial impacts: Global and Planetary Change, Vol. 234, Feb. 8, pp 1-14, doc. 104369.