A previously unknown giant volcanic eruption that led to global mass extinction 260 million years ago has been uncovered by scientists at the University of Leeds.A previously unknown giant volcanic eruption that led to global mass extinction 260 million years ago has been uncovered by scientists at the University of Leeds.
The eruption in the Emeishan province of south-west China unleashed around half a million cubic kilometres of lava, covering an area 5 times the size of Wales, and wiping out marine life around the world.
Unusually, scientists were able to pinpoint the exact timing of the eruption and directly link it to a mass extinction event in the study published in Science. This is because the eruptions occurred in a shallow sea – meaning that the lava appears today as a distinctive layer of igneous rock sandwiched between layers of sedimentary rock containing easily datable fossilised marine life.The layer of fossilised rock directly after the eruption shows mass extinction of different life forms, clearly linking the onset of the eruptions with a major environmental catastrophe.The global effect of the eruption is also due to the proximity of the volcano to a shallow sea. The collision of fast flowing lava with shallow sea water caused a violent explosion at the start of the eruptions – throwing huge quantities of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere.