Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2012 Jan 19;109(1):59-62. Epub 2011 Dec 19.
Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 1156 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0225, USA.
The end-Permian extinction decimated up to 95% of carbonate shell-bearing marine species and 80% of land animals. Isotopic excursions, dissolution of shallow marine carbonates, and the demise of carbonate shell-bearing organisms suggest global warming and ocean acidification. The temporal association of the extinction with the Siberia flood basalts at approximately 250 Ma is well known, and recent evidence suggests these flood basalts may have mobilized carbon in thick deposits of organic-rich sediments. Large isotopic excursions recorded in this period are potentially explained by rapid venting of coal-derived methane, which has primarily been attributed to metamorphism of coal by basaltic intrusion. However, recently discovered contemporaneous deposits of fly ash in northern Canada suggest large-scale combustion of coal as an additional mechanism for rapid release of carbon. This massive coal combustion may have resulted from explosive interaction with basalt sills of the Siberian Traps. Here we present physical analysis of explosive eruption of coal and basalt, demonstrating that it is a viable mechanism for global extinction. We describe and constrain the physics of this process including necessary magnitudes of basaltic intrusion, mixing and mobilization of coal and basalt, ascent to the surface, explosive combustion, and the atmospheric rise necessary for global distribution.