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Huge volcanic eruptions in what’s now India—the Deccan Traps eruptions—might have contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs, say researchers.

Scientists acknowledge the influence of an asteroid or comet because the principal reason for the mass extinction that killed off most dinosaurs and about three-quarters of the planet’s plant and animal species 66 million years in the past.

However there’s been long-standing debate over the importance of the Deccan Traps eruptions, which started earlier than the influence and lasted, on and off, for practically 1,000,000 years, punctuated by the influence occasion.

Now, geochemical evaluation of fossil marine mollusk shells from across the globe offers new insights into each the local weather response and environmental mercury contamination on the time of the Deccan Traps volcanism.

From the identical shell specimens, the researchers discovered what seems to be a world sign of each abrupt ocean warming and distinctly elevated mercury concentrations. Volcanoes are the biggest pure supply of mercury getting into the ambiance.

The twin chemical fingerprints start earlier than the influence occasion and align with the onset of the Deccan Traps eruptions.

When the researchers in contrast the mercury ranges from the traditional shells to concentrations in freshwater clam shells collected at a present-day website of commercial mercury air pollution in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the degrees have been roughly equal.

Two iridescent fossil shells, one slightly larger, one slightly smaller than a quarterThe preservation of Cretaceous mollusk fossils from Seymour Island is great, with shells preserving authentic mother-of-pearl materials as in these two specimens of Eselaevitrigonia regina. (Credit score: Sierra V. Petersen)

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Proof from the examine, which can seem in Nature Communications, helps the concept that Deccan Traps volcanism had climatic and ecological impacts that have been profound, long-lasting, and world, the researchers conclude.

“For the primary time, we are able to present insights into the distinct climatic and environmental impacts of Deccan Traps volcanism by analyzing a single materials,” says lead writer Kyle Meyer.

“It was extremely stunning to see that the very same samples the place marine temperatures confirmed an abrupt warming sign additionally exhibited the very best mercury concentrations, and that these concentrations have been of comparable magnitude to a website of serious fashionable industrial mercury contamination.”

Meyer carried out the examine as a part of his doctoral dissertation within the College of Michigan’s division of earth and environmental sciences. He’s now a postdoctoral researcher at Portland State College in Oregon.

Mercury is a poisonous hint metallic that poses a well being menace to people, fish, and wildlife. Human-generated sources of mercury embody coal-fired energy crops and artisanal gold mines. At Virginia’s South River industrially contaminated website, the place the researchers collected freshwater clam shells, indicators warn residents to not eat fish from the river.

“The fashionable website has a fishing ban for people due to excessive mercury ranges. So, think about the environmental influence of getting this degree of mercury contamination globally for tens to tons of of hundreds of years,” says geochemist and examine coauthor Sierra Petersen, who was Meyer’s co-adviser.

The researchers hypothesized that the fossilized shells of mollusks, principally bivalves comparable to oysters and clams, might concurrently report each coastal marine temperature responses and ranging mercury alerts related to the discharge of large quantities of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and mercury from the Deccan Traps.

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The long-lived Deccan Traps eruptions fashioned a lot of western India and have been centered on the time of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (Okay-Pg) mass extinction, 66 million years in the past.

The examine used fossil shells from Antarctica, the US (Alabama, Alaska, California, and Washington), Argentina, India, Egypt, Libya, and Sweden. The researchers analyzed the isotopic composition of the shell carbonate to find out marine temperatures, utilizing a lately developed method known as carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometry.

Additionally they measured the quantity of mercury within the remarkably well-preserved fossil shells and assembled the first-ever deep-time report of mercury preserved in fossilized biomineral stays.

In earlier research, data of environmental mercury have been reconstructed from marine sediments, offering insights into the timing and scale of the Deccan Traps occasion. However these data lacked such a direct linkage to the local weather response. Within the new examine, each alerts are current in the identical specimens—an essential first, in keeping with the authors.

“Mercury anomalies had been documented in sediments however by no means earlier than in shells. Being able to reconstruct each local weather and a volcanism indicator in the very same supplies helps us circumvent numerous issues associated to relative relationship,” says Petersen, an assistant professor within the division of earth and environmental sciences. “So, one of many large firsts on this examine is the technical proof of idea.”

The brand new method is anticipated to have broad purposes for the examine of mass extinctions and local weather perturbations within the geological report, in keeping with the researchers.

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Funding got here from the Nationwide Science Basis and the College of Michigan Scott Turner Award. The authors and their collaborators collected among the shell specimens within the examine; others have been on mortgage from the College of Michigan Museum of Paleontology and the College of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley.

Supply: College of Michigan