Mass extinction traced to a ‘one-two punch’

Image: Dying dinosaur
What led to the mass extinction that did in the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago? Scientists say volcano-caused climate change was a contributing cause. (Credit: Zina Deretsky / NSF)

Scientists generally agree that a catastrophic asteroid blast killed off the dinosaurs and most of Earth’s other species more than 65 million years ago, but newly described evidence supports the view that there was an additional culprit: rapid climate change brought on by volcanic eruptions.

The idea that the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction was a one-two punch isn’t new. For decades, scientists have debated how much the eruptions in the Indian subcontinent’s Deccan Traps contributed to the die-off, as opposed to the miles-wide space rock that hit the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

A study of ancient Antarctic fossil seashells, published online today in Nature Communications, turns the spotlight on the volcanoes’ effect.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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