Rapid and intense CO2 emissions upset Earth’s life in the geological past

Short-lived volcanic pulses from 201 million years-old rocks hint at anthropogenic-scale CO2 degassing events. New models reveal the impact of  exceptional magmatic activity on the end-Triassic climate and environment, leading to a devastating mass extinction event. The international collaborative study published in Global and Planetary Change was led by CEED postdoc Manfredo Capriolo.

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End-Triassic timescale showing the modelled timeframe, the extinction phases, the δ13C record, the volcanic phases and the available U-Pb ages for the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. End-Triassic timescale figure from study.

Throughout Earth’s past, mass extinctions, climatic and environmental changes have been documented to be synchronous with exceptional magmatic events. One of the most catastrophic mass extinctions occurred at the end-Triassic (201 million years ago), when the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) produced extensive basaltic lava flows and emitted huge amounts of CO2 through brief and intense volcanic pulses.

A new study, published in the February 2022 issue of Global and Planetary Change shows how volcanic CO2 degassing on a similar scale to current anthropogenic emissions affected the end-Triassic climate and environment with devastating consequences for biota.

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Model outputs of the pH at low-latitude surface ocean showing the similarity between a 400 years-lasting CAMP pulse (on the left) and the total anthropogenic emissions (on the right), using the same timescale (100,000 years). Model output figure from study.

In this article a team of international researchers led by Manfredo Capriolo (University of Padova, Italy, now at CEED, University of Oslo) used a biogeochemical box model for the carbon cycle to reconstruct the effects of rapid and massive CO2 emissions exclusively from CAMP volcanism at 201 million years ago. This study points out that intense and pulsed volcanic activity may have raised the atmospheric CO2 concentration and may have caused repeated temperature increases up to 5 °C (i.e., global warming) and pH drops of about 0.2 log units (i.e., ocean acidification), implying a severe impact on the biosphere. The modelling of short-duration volcanic pulses, in the timeframe of 100s years, and the similarity between a single CAMP pulse and total anthropogenic emissions open new scenarios for the interpretation of climatic and environmental changes.

Capriolo explains, "This study enlarges the understanding of Earth’s past, and likely also the foreseeing of Earth’s future, highlighting the similarity in CO2 emission timescale between CAMP and human events. Anthropogenic-scale events can be hidden in deep-time geological record mainly because of their very short duration compared to the geological timescale".

Contact: Manfredo Capriolo: manfredo.capriolo@phd.unipd.it and manfredo.capriolo@geo.uio.no.

Publication details: Capriolo et al. (2022) Anthropogenic-scale CO2 degassing from the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province as a driver of the end-Triassic mass extinction. Global and Planetary Change

The authors of this study, with the related involved institutions in brackets, are in the order Manfredo Capriolo (University of Padova, Italy, now University of Oslo (CEED), Norway), Benjamin J. W. Mills (University of Leeds, United Kingdom), Robert J. Newton (University of Leeds, United Kingdom), Jacopo Dal Corso (China University of Geosciences of Wuhan, China), Alexander M. Dunhill (University of Leeds, United Kingdom), Paul B. Wignall (University of Leeds, United Kingdom) and Andrea Marzoli (University of Padova, Italy).

Capriolo is now supported by the MAPLES project at CEED.


By Manfredo Capriolo, Grace Shephard
Published Jan. 18, 2022 5:49 AM - Last modified Jan. 18, 2022 5:53 AM
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The CEED blog covers some behind-the-scenes about our latest research and activities. The contributors are a mix of students and staff from The Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics, Dept. of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Norway.