Gases from Inland Northwest blocked out sun, cooling planet
Washington State University researchers have determined that the Pacific Northwest was home to one of the Earth's largest known volcanic eruptions, a millennia-long spewing of sulfuric gas that blocked out the sun and cooled the planet.
The Palouse River in southeastern Washington State drops nearly 200 feet through cliffs of basalt created by scores of lava flows 10 to 16 million years ago. Washington State University researchers have determined that one flow constituted one of the Earth's largest known volcanic eruptions, a millennia-long spewing of sulfuric gas that blocked out the sun and cooled the planet.
Credit: Dean Hare, WSU Photo Services
Only two other eruptions -- the basalt floods of the Siberian Traps and the Deccan Traps -- were larger, and they led to two of the Earth's great extinctions.
"This would have been devastating regionally because of the acid-rain effect from the eruptions," said John Wolff, a professor in the WSU School of the Environment. "It did have a global effect on temperatures, but not drastic enough to start killing things, or it did not kill enough of them to affect the fossil record."
The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, appears in Geology, the top journal in the field. Starting 16.5 million years ago, they say, vents in southeast Washington and northeast Oregon put out a series of flows that reached nearly to Canada and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The flows created the Wapshilla Ridge Member of the Grande Ronde Basalt, a kilometer-thick block familiar to travelers in the Columbia Gorge and most of Eastern Washington. The researchers say it is "the largest mapped flood basalt unit on Earth."
The researchers estimate that, over tens of thousands of years, the floods put out between 242 and 305 billion tons of sulfur dioxide. That's more than 4,000 times the output of the 1815 Mount Tambora eruption in present-day Indonesia. That eruption blanketed the Earth in an aerosol veil, creating the "Year Without A Summer" and food shortages across the northern hemisphere.
The volume of gas emitted from the Wapshilla Ridge lavas, said the researchers, "is equivalent to a Tambora eruption every day for 11 to 16 years."
Most of the lava's gases were released during the eruptions, but some of the gas remained trapped in crystals near the volcanic vents. Klarissa Davis, lead author of the paper, analyzed the gases as part of her doctoral studies. The other authors are Michael Rowe, now at the University of Auckland, and Owen Neill, now at the University of Michigan.
Wolff puts the eruption into one of three classes of cataclysms, the other two being a caldera eruption like the Yellowstone volcano and the impact of an asteroid. A similar eruption today "would devastate modern society globally," said Wolff.
The eruption also provides an insight into the workings of climate change. It took place in what is known as the Miocene Climactic Optimum, or MCO, when some 50 million years of cooling was interrupted by 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. But at its peak, the MCO had a brief cooling period that coincides with the Wapshilla eruption and its profusion of sulfur dioxide.
Sulfur dioxide is now bandied about as a possible tool for engineering a break in the Earth's current warming trend, though Wolff is not particularly keen on the idea.
"I personally think that it's probably a dangerous thing to do without understanding all of the possible consequences," he said. "But maybe we're getting an idea of some possible consequences here."
John Wolff | EurekAlert!
Fossil coral reefs show sea level rose in bursts during last warming
19.10.2017 | Rice University
NASA finds newly formed tropical storm lan over open waters
17.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy