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Could the Chicxulub asteroid have helped to trigger the volcanic activity in the Deccan Traps 65 million years ago?

Bruce Maier, Shoreham, New York
RELATED TOPICS: ASTEROIDS
DeccanTraps outside Mumbai, India
Some geologists say dinosaurs were killed by the one-two punch from an asteroid impact followed by some of the most incredible volcanic eruptions known. Scientists recently showed the Deccan Traps, shown here outside Mumbai, India, erupted within 50,000 years of the asteroid impact.
Mark Richards/UC Berkeley
Scientists are still searching for the answer to this longstanding planetary science question. At the moment, it depends on whom you ask.

What we do know is that 66 million years ago, an asteroid smashed into modern-day Mexico near the tiny town of Chicxulub. Land turned to liquid. Twelfth-magnitude earthquakes launched landslides across the Western Hemisphere. And a climate-altering dust blanket enveloped Earth, killing much of its life, including the dinosaurs.

At the same time this catastrophe was playing out, floods of lava were seeping from the ground in modern-day West India. Scientists estimate that each eruption lasted years — even decades — over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, producing one of Earth’s largest volcanic features.

A recent University of California, Berkeley study published in Science suggested that the impact altered Earth’s magma plumbing, accelerating the volcanoes in India for 500,000 years and giving dinosaurs a one-two punch. Exactly how that’s possible is still unclear.

And not everyone’s buying that answer. Another study published in Nature Geoscience earlier in 2015 showed that sulfur dioxide emissions from the Deccan Traps would have had a limited influence on Earth’s atmosphere, because it would require long-lasting and uninterrupted eruptions to alter climate or cause widespread acid rain.

A new scientific drilling expedition to the Chicxulub crater this spring could help finally clear up the confusion.
Eric Betz
Associate Editor
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