July 19, 2008
Underwater Volcanic Eruption Caused Mass Extinction?

One thing strikes me about the world's history of huge volcanic eruptions: Another one is probably inevitable. 93 million years ago a volcanic eruption might have caused a worldwide massive depletion of oceanic oxygen. All those fish that get oxygen from water would have died in massive numbers.

University of Alberta scientists contend they have the answer to mass extinction of animals and plants 93 million years ago. The answer, research has uncovered, has been found at the bottom of the sea floor where lava fountains erupted, altering the chemistry of the sea and possibly of the atmosphere.

Earth and Atmospheric Science researchers Steven Turgeon and Robert Creaser found specific isotope levels of the element osmium, an indicator of volcanism in seawater, in black shale—rocks containing high amounts of organic matter—drilled off the coast of South America and in the mountains of central Italy.

According to their research, the eruptions preceded the mass extinction by a geological blink of the eye. The event occurred within 23 thousand years and the underwater volcanic eruption had two consequences: first, nutrients were released, which allowed mass feeding and growth of plants and animals. When these organisms died, their decomposition and fall towards the sea floor caused further oxygen depletion, thereby compounding the effects of the volcanic eruption and release of clouds of carbon dioxide in to the oceans and atmosphere. The result was a global oceanic anoxic event, where the ocean is completely depleted of oxygen, Anoxic events—while extremely rare—occur in periods of very warm climate, which means that this research could not only help prove a mass-extinction theory, but also help scientists studying the effects of global warming.

If we manage to develop rejuvenation therapies and also to avoid extinction at the hands of robots and nano-goo then many of us will live to see massive volcanic eruptions. I'm thinking that perpetually youthful people who have thousands of years to prepare will want to build underground bunkers for the day when some big volcano on the scale of the Toba eruption (called VEI-8 events) finally goes off.

We won't get wiped out by an asteroid unless one comes in the next few decades. At some point in this century we should possess the technologies needed to detect and deflect any big asteroid. But volcanoes are much tougher. Will we ever possess technology needed to scale down the size of volcanic eruptions? Will we at least gain the capability to predict them in advance?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 July 19 12:32 AM  Dangers Natural Geological

ray said at July 19, 2008 5:19 AM:

A large area including Yellowstone National Park is a caldera volcano which erupts every few thousand years. When it erupts again much of the US will be be damaged. As far as I know the science of predicting large eruptions is slightly better than that for predicting earthquakes.

David Govett said at July 19, 2008 2:51 PM:

While you're hiding in a cave covered by 100 feet of ash, a nearby gamma ray burster will wipe you out. Only one door in, but many doors out.

Jay said at July 19, 2008 5:03 PM:

How do we know that the volcanism wasn't triggered by an asteroid impact? To me, it hardly seems that they'd be mutually exclusive.

guest said at July 19, 2008 8:11 PM:

Mass extinction via underwater volcanism = TTT

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