Mercury linked to Deccan Traps volcanism, climate change and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction

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Mercury (Hg) anomalies linked to Large Igneous Provinces (LIP) volcanism have been identified in sediments across all five major mass extinctions in Earth's history. This study tests whether Hg in marine sediments is a reliable proxy linking Deccan Traps volcanic eruptions to late Maastrichtian global climate warming and the mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary (KPB). Our primary test site is the Elles section in Tunisia, the auxiliary Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) to El Kef. Elles has the most complete marine sedimentary record and a high average sedimentation rate of 4.7 cm/ky. We chose the Hor Hahar section in Israel to corroborate the geographic distribution of Hg fallout from Deccan volcanism. Reliability of the Hg proxy over the last 550 ky of the Maastrichtian to early Danian was evaluated based on high-resolution age control (orbital cyclostratigraphy), stable isotope climate record, Hg concentrations, biotic turnover and mass extinction. These results were correlated with the pulsed Deccan eruptive history constrained previously by U-Pb zircon geochronology. Our results support Hg as robust proxy for Deccan volcanism with large Hg spikes marking “extreme event” (EE) pulsed eruptions correlative with climate warming peaks separated by steady, less intense eruptions. Long-term global climate warming began near 350 ky pre-KPB, reached maximum warming (3–4 °C) between 285 and 200 ky pre-KPB, followed by gradual cooling and rapid temperature drop between 45 and 25 ky pre-KPB. During the last 25 ky before the KPB, multiple Hg EE eruptions correlate with hyperthermal warming that culminated in the rapid mass extinction at Elles during ≤1000 years of the Cretaceous. These latest Cretaceous Hg peaks may correlate with massive, distal, Deccan-sourced lava flows (>1000 km long) that traversed the Indian subcontinent and flowed into the Bay of Bengal, bracketing the mass extinction. These results support Deccan volcanism as a primary driver of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.


Global and Planetary Change
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