A Caltech Library Service

Mantle plume: The invisible serial killer - Application to the Permian-Triassic boundary mass extinction

Heydari, Ezat and Arzani, Nasser and Hassanzadeh, Jamshid (2008) Mantle plume: The invisible serial killer - Application to the Permian-Triassic boundary mass extinction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 264 (1-2). pp. 147-162. ISSN 0031-0182. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.04.013.

Full text is not posted in this repository. Consult Related URLs below.

Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The Earth experienced a severe mass extinction at the Permian–Triassic boundary (PTB) about 252 million years ago. This biological catastrophe was accompanied by major changes in geochemical composition of the atmosphere and ocean and the appearance of sedimentary features which had not occurred since the Precambrian time. The eruption of the largest continental flood basalt, the Siberian Traps, overlapped this mass killing. Many hypotheses have been proposed but no definitive conclusion currently exits. Here we present characteristics of three sections from Iran and China and propose that an active mantle plume initiated a series of processes which led to the mass mortality and produced major sedimentological, mineralogical, and geochemical changes observed in the transition from the Paleozoic to the Mesozoic. The injection of mantle plume-related igneous dike swarms into the continental margin facilitated the release of massive amounts of CH_4 primarily from the dissociation of marine gas hydrates and secondarily from the maturation of organic-rich sediments and fracturing of hydrocarbon reservoirs. The bulk of the CH_4 was aerobically oxidized in the water column producing dissolved CO_2 with low δ^(13)C values. This CO_2-saturated seawater became acidic to the point of dissolution of shelf carbonates promoting precipitation of siliciclastic-rich strata in the transition from the Permian to the Triassic. Methane-derived CO_2 also lowered carbon isotopic composition of seawater leading to the observed decline in δ^(13)C composition of organic and inorganic marine carbon at the PTB. Gas-charged oceans released large volumes of CO_2 and CH_4 into the atmosphere which created a severe global warming (the end-Permian inferno) causing the release of additional CH_4 from the dissociation of polar gas hydrates. These events lowered δ^(13)C compositions of terrestrial carbon. Simultaneously, feeder dikes from the mantle plume formed the Siberian Traps flood basalt. Marine mass extinction was the result of a change in seawater composition due to the injection and oxidation of CH_4 in the water column causing low pH, high concentrations of CO_2, Ca^(2+) and HCO_3−, and low CO_3^(2−) values. Combined with a hot seawater temperature, these changes made calcification of marine organisms difficult and produced major physiological crisis including reduced metabolic rates, high sensitivity to environmental stress, and hampered growth and reproduction. Terrestrial mass extinction can be attributed to severe global warming and soil acidification produced by increased atmospheric CO_2, acid rain that was generated by SO_2 derived from the Siberian trap eruption, and loss of habitat. Cessation of the plume activity during Early Triassic stopped the release of CH_4 into the ocean and terminated continental flood basalt eruption ending the environment of death on land and in sea. The cut off of CO_2 production in the ocean instantly increased carbonate saturation of seawater resulting in extensive seafloor cementation. It also resulted in the deposition of marine carbonates by microbial activities in the hostile post-extinction environment. From the trigger to recovery, the perturbation which included the end-Permian mass mortality could have lasted for at least 2 Myr. Several major mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic are temporally accompanied by flood basalt eruptions. So far, these two events have been interpreted in a cause-and-effect relation: flood basalt eruption causes mass extinction. This study proposes that flood basalts and their time correlative biological crises are themselves the consequence of a complex perturbation caused by mantle plume activities. If so, major disturbances in the near surface of the Earth are ultimately controlled by changes in the mantle. The physical sedimentological observations presented here combined with previous paleontological evidence cast doubt on other interpretations which use geochemical variables, numerical modeling, biomarkers, and Ce anomaly to suggest that Late Permian ocean was anoxic all the way to the photic zone.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle
Additional Information:© 2008 Elsevier B.V. Received 3 July 2007; Received in revised form 28 March 2008; Accepted 4 April 2008. This study was supported by Jackson State University, the University of Tehran, Iran, and the University of Payame-Nour, Iran. We are grateful to highly constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Jackson State UniversityUNSPECIFIED
University of Tehran, IranUNSPECIFIED
University of Payame-Nour, IranUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Permian; Triassic; Mantle Plume; Iran; Shahreza; Mass extinction
Issue or Number:1-2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20130820-142258172
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Ezat Heydari, Nasser Arzani, Jamshid Hassanzadeh, Mantle plume: The invisible serial killer — Application to the Permian–Triassic boundary mass extinction, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, Volume 264, Issues 1–2, 7 July 2008, Pages 147-162, ISSN 0031-0182,
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:40743
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:20 Aug 2013 22:17
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 00:08

Repository Staff Only: item control page