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SAN FRANCISCO Huge volcanic eruptions that belched sulfur into the air for around 10,000

years could have killed the dinosaurs, according to new evidence unearthed by geologists.
Evidence is accumulating that it wasnt an asteroid that did the beasts in, but volcanoes
the first real challenge the extinction theory has met in three decades. A combination of
studies on dinosaur fossils, magnetic signatures in rocks and the timing of the disappearance
of different species suggest it was volcanoes, not an asteroid, that caused the dinosaurs
"Were discovering amazingly large flows, amazingly short time scales and amazing
volcanic (eruptions)," said Vincent Courtillot of the University of Paris, who is is presenting
new evidence for the volcano theory this week at the American Geophysical Union conference
here. For the last 30 years, the prevailing theory has been that an asteroid, around six miles
across, hit the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago, throwing debris into the atmosphere,
blocking the sun and chilling the planet to the point that nearly half of all species went
Physicist Luis Alvarez of the University of California, Berkeley, first presented the asteroid
impact hypothesis in 1980. It was based on an extensive layer of iridium, which is associated
with impacts, that could be found in many places across the globe in the same geologic time
sequence. A decade later, the Chicxulub crater was discovered on the Yucatan peninsula,
adding weight to the idea that an impact killed off the dinosaurs.
The idea that Indian volcanoes, known as the Deccan Traps, might have contributed to the
mass extinction is not new. But scientists at the AGU meeting think the eruptions could be the
sole cause of the die-offs, and that the asteroid had little or no effect on life at all. "If there
had been no impact, we think there would have been a massive extinction anyway," Courtillot
said. Courtillot has studied the magnetic signatures of the Indian volcanic deposits that lined
up with the Earths magnetic field as they cooled. Because the orientation of the magnetic
field has changed over time, lava that cooled at different times have different signatures.
The more than 2-mile thick pile of Deccan Traps deposits has several major pulses that
occurred over the course of several decades each, almost certainly less than 100 years. And
the entire sequence erupted in less than 10,000 years, rather than the million years or more
that has been suggested.
All told, this would have put 10 times more climate-changing emissions into the atmosphere
than the asteroid impact.
Also supporting the volcanic theory is fossil evidence from Texas and Mexico that most of the
species extinctions coincided with the final pulse of eruptions, not with the asteroid impact,
which may have occurred approximately 300,000 years earlier, according to Gerta Keller of
Princeton University.
"There is essentially no extinction associated with the impact," Keller said.
Evidence that dinosaurs survived in India right up to the final volcanic onslaught further
bolsters the case.

But it will take a lot of evidence to convince the bulk of the scientific community that the
asteroid theory is wrong.
"There was volcanism at the time. Theres always volcanism, but that impact is so significant
that you cant ignore it," said Rick Firestone of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who
studies the link between impacts and extinctions. "The only question is, were there other
things that happened as result of it."

Mount Pinatubo
Mount Pinatubo
In June 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century* took
place on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, a mere 90 kilometers (55 miles)
northwest of the capital city Manila. Up to 800 people were killed and 100,000
became homeless following the Mount Pinatubo eruption, which climaxed with nine
hours of eruption on June 15, 1991. On June 15, millions of tons of sulfur dioxide were
discharged into the atmosphere, resulting in a decrease in the temperature worldwide
over the next few years.
Mount Pinatubo is part of a chain of composite volcanoes along the Luzon arc on the
west coast of the island (area map). The arc of volcanoes is due to the subduction of
the Manila trench to the west. The volcano experienced major eruptions
approximately 500, 3000, and 5500 years ago.
The events of the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption began in July 1990, when a
magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of the
Pinatubo region, determined to be a result of the reawakening of Mount Pinatubo.
In mid-March 1991, villagers around Mount Pinatubo began feeling earthquakes and
vulcanologists began to study the mountain. (Approximately 30,000 people lived on
the flanks of the volcano prior to the disaster.) On April 2, small explosions from vents
dusted local villages with ash. The first evacuations of 5,000 people were ordered
later that month.
Earthquakes and explosions continued. On June 5, a Level 3 alert was issued for two
weeks due to the possibility of a major eruption. The extrusion of a lava dome on June
7 led to the issuance of a Level 5 alert on June 9, indicating an eruption in progress.
An evacuation area 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away from the volcano was established
and 25,000 people were evacuated.
The following day (June 10), Clark Air Base, a U.S. military installation near the
volcano, was evacuated. The 18,000 personnel and their families were transported to
Subic Bay Naval Station and most were returned to the United States. On June 12, the
danger radius was extended to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the volcano resulting
in the total evacuation of 58,000 people.
On June 15, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo began at 1:42 p.m. local time. The
eruption lasted for nine hours and caused numerous large earthquakes due to the
collapse of the summit of Mount Pinatubo and the creation of a caldera. The caldera
reduced the peak from 1745 meters (5725 feet) to 1485 meters (4872 feet) high is 2.5
kilometers (1.5 miles) in diameter.

Unfortunately, at the time of the eruption Tropical Storm Yunya was passing 75 km (47
miles) to the northeast of Mount Pinatubo, causing a large amount of rainfall in the
region. The ash that was ejected from the volcano mixed with the water vapor in the
air to cause a rainfall of tephra that fell across almost the entire island of Luzon. The
greatest thickness of ash deposited 33 centimeters (13 inches) approximately 10.5 km
(6.5 mi) southwest of the volcano. There was 10 cm of ash covering an area of 2000
square kilometers (772 square miles). Most of the 200 to 800 people (accounts vary)
who died during the eruption died due to the weight of the ash collapsing roofs and
killing to occupants. Had Tropical Storm Yunya not been nearby, the death toll from
the volcano would have been much lower.
In addition to the ash, Mount Pinatubo ejected between 15 and 30 million tons of
sulfur dioxide gas. Sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere mixes with water and oxygen in
the atmosphere to become sulfuric acid, which in turn triggers ozone depletion. Over
90% of the material released from the volcano was ejected during the nine hour
eruption of June 15.
The eruption plume of Mount Pinatubo's various gases and ash reached high into the
atmosphere within two hours of the eruption, attaining an altitude of 34 km (21 miles)
high and over 400 km (250 miles) wide. This eruption was the largest disturbance of
the stratosphere since the eruption of Krakatau in 1883 (but ten times larger than
Mount St. Helens in 1980). The aerosol cloud spread around the earth in two weeks
and covered the planet within a year. During 1992 and 1993, the Ozone hole over
Antarctica reached an unprecedented size.
The cloud over the earth reduced global temperatures. In 1992 and 1993, the average
temperature in the Northern Hemisphere was reduced 0.5 to 0.6C and the entire
planet was cooled 0.4 to 0.5C. The maximum reduction in global temperature
occurred in August 1992 with a reduction of 0.73C. The eruption is believed to have
influenced such events as 1993 floods along the Mississippi river and the drought in
the Sahel region of Africa. The United States experienced its third coldest and third
wettest summer in 77 years during 1992.
Overall, the cooling effects of the Mount Pinatubo eruption were greater than those of
the El Nio that was taking place at the time or of the greenhouse gas warming of the
planet. Remarkable sunrises and sunsets were visible around the globe in the years
following the Mount Pinatubo eruption.
The human impacts of the disaster are staggering. In addition to the up to 800 people
who lost their lives, there was almost one half of a billion dollars in property and
economic damage. The economy of central Luzon was horribly disrupted. In 1991, the
volcano destroyed 4,979 homes and damaged another 70,257. The following year
3,281 homes were destroyed and 3,137 were damaged. Damage following the Mount
Pinatubo eruption was usually caused by lahars - rain-induced torrents of volcanic
debris that killed people and animals and buried homes in the months after the
eruption. Additionally, another Mount Pinatubo eruption in August 1992 killed 72
The United States military never returned to Clark Air Base, turning over the damaged
base to the Philippine government on November 26, 1991. Today, the region continues
to rebuild and recover from the disaster.