Working with Brenhin Keller and co-author Professor Paul Renne of the University of California, Berkeley, Green was able to use Dartmouth Discovery Cluster supercomputers to process numbers.
The researchers compared the best available estimates of basalt flood eruptions with periods in the geologic time scale in which significant species deaths occurred, including known mass extinctions to name but a few of those five events.
To demonstrate that the timing was more than a coincidence, they examined whether the explosions would also coincide with a randomly generated pattern, and repeated this exercise with 100 million such random patterns. The result of the calculations was that the resemblance to periods of extinction was much greater than chance could be explained.
“While it is difficult to determine that a particular volcanic eruption caused a particular mass extinction, our results make it difficult to ignore the role of volcanoes in the extinction,” Keeler said.
If a causal relationship is found between volcanic basalt floods and mass extinctions, scientists would expect larger volcanic eruptions to lead to worse extinctions, but such a link has not been proven.
Rather than looking at the absolute size of the eruption, the research team classified volcanic eruptions by the rate at which the lava is spewing out. They found that volcanic eruptions with the highest speeds actually caused the most devastation and led to the worst extinction waves, all the way to mass extinctions.
Devoted music ninja. Zombie practitioner. Pop culture aficionado. Webaholic. Communicator. Internet nerd. Certified alcohol maven. Tv buff.