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News Release

29 October 2007
GSA Release No. 07-59

Contact: Christa Stratton

Dinosaur Deaths Outsourced to India?

Boulder, CO, USA - A series of monumental volcanic eruptions in India may have killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, not a meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico. The eruptions, which created the gigantic Deccan Traps lava beds of India, are now the prime suspect in the most famous and persistent paleontological murder mystery, say scientists who have conducted a slew of new investigations honing down eruption timing.

"It's the first time we can directly link the main phase of the Deccan Traps to the mass extinction," said Princeton University paleontologist Gerta Keller. The main phase of the Deccan eruptions spewed 80 percent of the lava which spread out for hundreds of miles. It is calculated to have released ten times more climate altering gases into the atmosphere than the nearly concurrent Chicxulub meteor impact, according to volcanologist Vincent Courtillot from the Physique du Globe de Paris.

Keller's crucial link between the eruption and the mass extinction comes in the form of microscopic marine fossils that are known to have evolved immediately after the mysterious mass extinction event. The same telltale fossilized planktonic foraminifera were found at Rajahmundry near the Bay of Bengal, about 1000 kilometers from the center of the Deccan Traps near Mumbai. At Rajahmundry there are two lava "traps" containing four layers of lava each. Between the traps are about nine meters of marine sediments. Those sediments just above the lower trap, which was the mammoth main phase, contain the incriminating microfossils.

Keller and her collaborator Thierry Adatte from the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, are scheduled to present the new findings on Tuesday, 30 October, at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver. They will also display a poster on the matter at the meeting on Wednesday, 31 October.

Previous work had first narrowed the Deccan eruption timing to within 800,000 years of the extinction event using paleomagnetic signatures of Earth's changing magnetic field frozen in minerals that crystallized from the cooling lava. Then radiometric dating of argon and potassium isotopes in minerals narrowed the age to within 300,000 years of the 65-million-year-old Cretaceous-Tertiary (a.k.a. Cretaceous-Paleogene) boundary, sometimes called the K-T boundary.

The microfossils are far more specific, however, because they demonstrate directly that the biggest phase of the eruption ended right when the aftermath of the mass extinction event began. That sort of clear-cut timing has been a lot tougher to pin down with Chicxulub-related sediments, which predate the mass extinction.

"Our results are consistent and mutually supportive with a number of new studies, including Chenet, Courtillot and others (in press) and Jay and Widdowson (in press), that reveal a very short time for the main Deccan eruptions at or near the K-T boundary and the massive carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide output of each major eruption that dwarfs the output of Chicxulub," explained Keller. "Our K-T age control combined with these results strongly points to Deccan volcanism as the likely leading contender in the K-T mass extinction." Keller's study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The Deccan Traps also provide an answer to a question on which Chicxulub was silent: Why did it take about 300,000 years for marine species to recover from the extinction event? The solution is in the upper, later Deccan Traps eruptions.

"It's been an enigma," Keller said. "The very last one was Early Danian, 280,000 years after the mass extinction, which coincides with the delayed recovery."

Keller and her colleagues are planning to explore the onset of the main phase of Deccan volcanism, that is, the rocks directly beneath the main phase lavas at Rajahmundry. That will require drilling into the Rajahmundry Traps, a project now slated for December-January 2007/2008.


Main Deccan Volcanism Phase Ends at K-T Mass Extinction: Evidence from the Krishna-Godavari Basin, SE India
Colorado Convention Center Room 506
Tuesday, October 30, 11:00 a.m. - 11:15 a.m.
[ view abstract ]

Paleoenvironment After Main Deccan Volcanism Ended at K-T Mass Extinction: Evidence From The Krishna-Godavari Basin, SE India.
Colorado Convention Center Room 407
Tuesday, October 30, 11:15 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
[ view abstract ]

Age and Paleoenvironment of Deccan Volcanism and the K-T Mass Extinction
Colorado Convention Center Exhibit Hall E/F
Wednesday, October 31, 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
[ view abstract ]


Gerta Keller
Professor, Dept. of Geosciences
Princeton University, Guyot Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
Telephone: 609-258-4117

Thierry Adatte
Professor, Geological Institute
University of Neuchatel, Neuchatel, CH-2007, Switzerland.
Telephone: 41 32 726-2617
Cell phone: 41 79 371-2715

Sunil Bajpai
Professor, Department of Earth Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee 247 667, Uttarakhand, India

For information and assistance during the GSA Annual Meeting, 27-31 October, contact Ann Cairns in the onsite newsroom, Colorado Convention Center Room 604, +1-303-228-8486, .


1) Regarding the dating of 80 percent of the Deccan Traps to within 300,000 years of the K-T boundary and the greenhouse gas releases

Anne-Lise Chenet
Cambridge University, UK

Vincent Courtillot
Director, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris
Université Paris 7, et Institut Universitaire de France, Paris.
Telephone: 0033(0)14427-3908

Frederic Fluteau
Professor, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris
Université Paris 7, et Institut Universitaire de France, Paris.
Telephone: 0033(0)14427-2820

2) Regarding Rajahmundry Deccan Traps

D.M. Mohabey
Director, Palaeontology Division, Geological Survey of India, Seminary Hills, Nagpur-440 006

3) Deccan Traps geochemistry and geographic extent:

Mike Widdowson
Lecturer, Volcano Dynamics Group and CEPSAR, Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK.
Telephone: 01908 652986

Steve Self
Professor, Volcano Dynamics Group and CEPSAR Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK
Telephone: 01908 659773

K.V. Subbarao
Professor, Center for Earth & Space Sciences University of Hyderabad, P.O. Central University, Gachibowli, Hyderabad - 500 046, INDIA
Email: or
Telephone: 091-040-23132669
Cell phone: 0-9392472503

For information and assistance during the GSA Annual Meeting, 27-31 October, contact Ann Cairns in the onsite newsroom, Colorado Convention Center Room 604, +1-303-357-1056, . For more information on the GSA Annual Meeting visit


Click on photo for high-resolution image.

Rajahmundry Quarry Rajahmundry Quarry.
Photo courtesy Gerta Keller.
Deccan lavas A vertical mile of Deccan lavas visible from Arthur's Seat at Mahabaleshwar.
Photo courtesy Mike Widdowson.

Technical Figures

Click on graphic for high-resolution image.

Map of the Deccan flood basalt province
Map of the Deccan flood basalt province showing main structural components. Shaded areas represent the current areas of basalt outcrop. Cross section (Figure 3) line X - Y follows the Western Ghats escarpment where the lava succession is best exposed. Oval region (dotted) marks the limit of a low seismic velocity zone (LSV) beneath the Indian continental crust where the plume head conduit penetrated the Indian continental crust. A 200 km diameter circle has been sited at the junction of the Narmada and Cambay rift zones, and marks the region of eruptive centres positioned above a putative hotspot at 67 Ma. A 200 km diameter circle indicates the probable limit of plume-related uplift given the 67 Ma hotspot position. The locus of dynamic plume-related uplift migrated southward as a consequence of the northward drift of greater India. Numbers 1 -3 (square boxes) indicate the localities of key onshore sedimentary successions. Inset map shows location of major offshore depocentres; Kutch basin (KB); Krishna-Godavari basin (KGB); Cauvery basin (CB).

cross-section showing structure and stratigraphy of the Deccan lava succession
North - South sketch cross-section showing structure and stratigraphy of the Deccan lava succession along the Western Ghats escarpment 16° - 22°N. Shading and numbering distinguish Kalsubai (2), Lonavala (3), and Wai (4) subgroups (Fig. 2). The Wai Subgroup is further divided into individual formation units Poladpur - Desur (4a - 4e). Due to the northward movement of India over a hotspot source, successive eruptive packages (1 - 4e) build on the southern flank of the evolving volcanic edifice. Vertical exaggeration × 25.

Composite chemostratigraphy and magnetostratigraphy of MDP.

Composite chemostratigraphy and magnetostratigraphy of the main Deccan province (MDP). Individual formational units are shown to approximate thickness. Age data are provided for magnetochron boundaries.


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