Magmas And Mass Extinction: Late Triassic

A new study on the synchronicity of igneous activity and the Late Triassic mass extinction which occurred around 201.5 million years ago.

Large-scale sill emplacement in Brazil as a trigger for the end-Triassic crisis- Thea H. Heimdal, Henrik. H. Svensen, Jahandar Ramezani, Karthik Iyer, Egberto Pereira, René Rodrigues, Morgan T. Jones & Sara Callegaro. The article is open access.

Magma intruded a thick pile of sediments in Brazil. The thermal reactions in the sediment would have resulted in the release of 88 trillion tons of CO2 from the degassing of sediments!


The end-Triassic is characterized by one of the largest mass extinctions in the Phanerozoic, coinciding with major carbon cycle perturbations and global warming. It has been suggested that the environmental crisis is linked to widespread sill intrusions during magmatism associated with the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP). Sub-volcanic sills are abundant in two of the largest onshore sedimentary basins in Brazil, the Amazonas and Solimões basins, where they comprise up to 20% of the stratigraphy. These basins contain extensive deposits of carbonate and evaporite, in addition to organic-rich shales and major hydrocarbon reservoirs. Here we show that large scale volatile generation followed sill emplacement in these lithologies. Thermal modeling demonstrates that contact metamorphism in the two basins could have generated 88,000 Gt CO2. In order to constrain the timing of gas generation, zircon from two sills has been dated by the U-Pb CA-ID-TIMS method, resulting in 206Pb/238U dates of 201.477 ± 0.062 Ma and 201.470 ± 0.089 Ma. Our findings demonstrate synchronicity between the intrusive phase and the end-Triassic mass extinction, and provide a quantified degassing scenario for one of the most dramatic time periods in the history of Earth.

This prolonged phase of igneous activity resulted in the formation of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. Its connection to the mass extinction was hard to pin down due to a lack of accurate dates of the oldest igneous activity. This and some other work now show that phases of this magmatic episode were synchronous with the mass extinction.

A similar problem of lack of accurate dating of events had limited our understanding of the role of Deccan Volcanism in the mass extinction that took place at 66.04 million year ago. New geochronology work (summarized by Kale et. al. 2019)  is showing that volcanism spanned this mass extinction. Significant amount of lava eruptions took place before the mass extinction and would have played a role in the deterioration of environmental conditions. And volcanism continued well after the mass extinction delaying biotic recovery for hundreds of thousand of years.

Large injections of magma as laterally extensive intrusions (sills) into sediment has also been thought to have been the trigger for the end-Permian mass extinction that took place around 252  million years ago. Interestingly, like the end-Triassic, it was not emissions of carbon dioxide and methane directly from lava eruptions that is thought to be the driver of environmental change. Rather, it was the subsurface emplacement of sills and the thermal reaction (contact metamorphism) in buried sediment in contact with this hot magma that resulted in volumetric degassing from sediments. Limestones when heated this way would have released carbon dioxide upon breakdown of the mineral calcite. And organic matter would have released methane.

The long trajectory of evolution on earth has been disrupted and reoriented many times from deep within.