Deccan volcanism, the Chicxulub impact, and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction: Coincidence? Cause and effect?

Gerta Keller

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

60 Scopus citations


The recent discovery of the direct link between Deccan volcanism and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction also links volcanism to the late Maastrichtian rapid global warming, high environmental stress, and the delayed recovery in the early Danian. In comparison, three decades of research on the Chicxulub impact have failed to account for long-term climatic and environmental changes or prove a coincidence with the mass extinction. A review of Deccan volcanism and the best age estimate for the Chicxulub impact provides a new perspective on the causes for the end-Cretaceous mass extinction and supports an integrated Deccan-Chicxulub scenario. This scenario takes into consideration climate warming and cooling, sea-level changes, erosion, weathering, ocean acidification, high-stress environments with opportunistic species blooms, the mass extinction, and delayed postextinction recovery. The crisis began in C29r (upper CF2 to lower CF1) with rapid global warming of 4°C in the oceans and 8°C on land, commonly attributed to Deccan phase 2 eruptions. The Chicxulub impact occurred during this warm event (about 100-150 k.y. before the mass extinction) based on the stratigraphically oldest impact spherule layer in NE Mexico, Texas, and Yucatan crater core Yaxcopoil-1. It likely exacerbated climate warming and may have intensified Deccan eruptions. The reworked spherule layers at the base of the sandstone complex in NE Mexico and Texas were deposited in the upper half of CF1, ∼50-80 k.y. before the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary. This sandstone complex, commonly interpreted as impact tsunami deposits of K-T boundary age, was deposited during climate cooling, low sea level, and intensified currents, leading to erosion of nearshore areas (including Chicxulub impact spherules), transport, and redeposition via submarine channels into deeper waters. Renewed climate warming during the last ∼50 k.y. of the Maastrichtian correlates with at least four rapid, massive volcanic eruptions known as the longest lava flows on Earth that ended with the mass extinction, probably due to runaway effects. The kill mechanism was likely ocean acidification resulting in the carbonate crisis commonly considered to be the primary cause for four of the five Phanerozoic mass extinctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationVolcanism, Impacts, and Mass Extinctions
Subtitle of host publicationCauses and Effects
EditorsGerta Keller, Andrew Kerr
PublisherGeological Society of America
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9780813725055
StatePublished - 2014

Publication series

NameSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
ISSN (Print)0072-1077

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology


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