WASHINGTON -- A mass extinction some 260 million years ago may have been caused by volcanic eruptions in what is now China, new research suggests.
The so-called Guadalupian Mass Extinction, devastating marine life around the world, was preceded by massive eruptions in the Emeishan province of southwest China, researchers led by Paul Wignall of Britain's University of Leeds report in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
Because the eruptions occurred in a shallow sea the researchers were able to study both the volcanic rock and the overlying layer of sedimentary rock containing fossilized marine life, making it possible to compare dates.
The injection of hot lava into a sea would have produced a massive cloud formation that could spread around the world, cooling the planet and producing acid rain, according to the scientists.
While they do not claim this is proof of cause-and-effect, the researchers conclude that their study "provides evidence for a potential link between mass extinction and the eruption ...."