Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Northwest lava flows could have altered Earth’s climate, wiped out species, new evidence suggests

Date:
April 7, 2010
Source:
Washington State University
Summary:
New research suggests the volcanic birth of the Northwest's Columbia Plateau happened much more quickly than previously thought and with an intensity that may have changed the earth's climate and caused some plants and animals to go extinct.

Evidence of Columbia Basin lava flows can be seen throughout the Northwest. These columns of columnar basalt are on State Route 26 outside Washtucna, Wash.
Credit: WSU photo by Robert Hubner

New research suggests the volcanic birth of the Northwest's Columbia Plateau happened much more quickly than previously thought and with an intensity that may have changed the earth's climate and caused some plants and animals to go extinct.

"What you're looking at are lava flows that repeat fairly quickly," said Steve Reidel, research professor of geology at Washington State University Tri-Cities. "Not decades or centuries, but months or years."

Reidel is a co-author of a paper in the recent issue of the journal Lithos refining the time frame of the Grande Ronde lava flows, which produced enough molten basalt to sink the earth's crust and created the vast Columbia River Plateau of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Just one of the 100 or so lava flows would have blanketed much of Washington State in 10,000 cubic kilometers of lava -- 10,000 times the volume of ash produced by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

The flows moved at walking speed, enough time for the horses and other animals of the region to get out of their path. But a single flow could reach as far as Portland, be more than 2,000 degrees Fahrebheit and take half a century to cool. In the process, it would have generated monsoons across the Northwest and emitted enough heat and sulfur to alter the earth's climate, said Reidel.

Substantial evidence has implicated other lava flows in the extinction of species. Siberian flows coincided with the epic Permian-Triassic "mass dying" that wiped out 96 percent of the earth's marine species 250 million years ago. A mass extinction at the end of the Triassic Period 200 million years ago coincided with lava coming out of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province between what is now northeastern South America and eastern North America. Gases from flows on India's Deccan plateau started a mass extinction some 65 million years ago, with the dinosaur-killing coup de grâce coming from a meteoroid that hit Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

To date the Grande Ronde flows, lead author Tiffany Barry of Britain's Open University obtained basalt samples from Hanford, Wash., and outcrops between Vantage, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho. With some of the most precise equipment in the world, she compared argon isotopes in the oldest, deepest levels and younger, shallower levels and used the element's decay rate to determine the rocks' relative ages.

Barry, Reidel, WSU Professor Emeritus Peter Hooper and other colleagues estimated the Grande Ronde flows took place between 15.6 and 16 million years ago, give or take 150,000 to 200,000 years. The youngest and oldest rock samples were only 420,000 years apart at the most. With a margin of error of 180,000 years, the rock may have been created over an even faster time frame of 240,000 years.

With less accurate equipment, Reidel and others previously estimated the flows occurred over a period of 1.5 to 2 million years. And because the Grande Ronde had so many flows, with some much larger than others, they likely had a far greater impact on the climate of their era than previously thought.

Some flows, wrote the researchers, "may have, at times, been simultaneous and, if confirmed, would have significant implications for potential environmental effects."

"It's an interesting piece of work and definitely a contribution," said John Wolff, a WSU professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, who was not involved in the paper. Both Wolff and the paper's authors note that the argon dating conflicts with dates established by looking at how changes in the earth's magnetic field affected the rock.

If the argon dating holds up, Wolff said, it will coincide with changes in the life forms and chemistry in the Atlantic Ocean. Just last summer, British researchers writing in the journal "Geology" described evidence of such changes off the west coast of Africa and singled out the Grande Ronde basalt flows as a possible cause.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. T.L. Barry, S. Self, S.P. Kelley, S. Reidel, P. Hooper, M. Widdowson. New 40Ar/39Ar dating of the Grande Ronde lavas, Columbia River Basalts, USA: Implications for duration of flood basalt eruption episodes. Lithos, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.lithos.2010.03.014

Cite This Page:

Washington State University. "Northwest lava flows could have altered Earth’s climate, wiped out species, new evidence suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100406142602.htm>.
Washington State University. (2010, April 7). Northwest lava flows could have altered Earth’s climate, wiped out species, new evidence suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100406142602.htm
Washington State University. "Northwest lava flows could have altered Earth’s climate, wiped out species, new evidence suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100406142602.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) — A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — A couple found love letters from World War I in their attic. They were able to deliver them to relatives of the writer of those letters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) — Explicit Chinese art works dating back centuries go on display in Hong Kong, revealing China's ancient relationship with sex. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) — Parisians and local historians are fighting to save one of the French capital's iconic buildings, the La Samaritaine department store. Duration: 01:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins