Volcanoes were dinosaurs' best friends about 200 million years ago, causing a mass extinction and allowing the creatures to become the dominate animals on the planet, the BBC News reported Monday from a new study.
Earth's extreme volcanic activity at the time, which played out over about 1 million years, wiped out much of life on the planet but dinosaurs somehow held on, according to the study, which was published in the science journal PNAS.
Once the volcanic activity subsided, it left the dinosaurs with few competitors to challenge their reign, noted the BBC News.
"The findings (of the PNAS study) link volcanism to the previously observed repeated large emissions of carbon dioxide that had a profound impact on the global climate, causing the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic Period, as well as slowing the recovery of animal life afterwards," said a statement from Oxford University, which conducted the study with researchers from Exeter and Southampton universities.'
"… While it remains a mystery why the dinosaurs survived this event, they went on to fill the vacancies left by the now extinct wildlife species, alongside early mammals and amphibians. This mass extinction has long been linked to a large and abrupt release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but the exact source of this emission has been unknown," the Oxford statement continued.
Oxford stated that researchers collected deposits from the Triassic Period in the United Kingdom, Austria, Argentina, Greenland, Canada, and Morocco, and analyzed their mercury levels.
Five of the six records showed a large increase in mercury content beginning at the end-Triassic extinction, with other peaks found from the extinction horizon and the Triassic–Jurassic boundary, which occurred approximately 200,000 years later, said the Oxford statement.
"If you can see a big spike in mercury in those sediments, you can infer there is volcanism happening at that exact time," lead author Lawrence Percival, from the Earth sciences department at Oxford University, told the BBC News, "And that's what we see at the time of this extinction."
Researchers will now use mercury to examine other periods of suspected ancient volcanic activity on Earth, wrote the BBC News.
"I think what's really exciting is that we are talking about an episode of volcanism that happened 200 million years ago, and these mercury records in the sediments are allowing us to say new things about volcanism that happened that far back in deep Earth time," Tamsin Mather, from Oxford, told the BBC News.
"This is a new and powerful tool that will really allow us to understand more about the evolution of our planet and how it's come to be how it is today," Mather added.
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