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Pulses in silicic arc magmatism initiate end-Permian climate instability and extinction

Abstract

Brief pulses of intense volcanic eruptions along convergent margins emit substantial volatiles that drive climatic excursions that can lead to major extinction events. However, correlating volcanic outpouring to environmental crises in the geological past is often difficult due to poor preservation of volcanic sequences and the need for precise dating methods. Here we present a high-fidelity CA-TIMS U–Pb zircon record of an end-Permian flare-up event in eastern Australia, which involved the eruption of >39,000–150,000 km3 of silicic magma in circa 4.21 ± 0.5 million years. A correlated high-resolution tephra record (circa 260–249 Ma) in the proximal sedimentary basins suggests recurrence of eruptions from the volcanic field in intervals of ~51,000–145,000 years. Peak eruption activity at 253 ± 0.5 million years ago is chronologically associated with intervals of pronounced species decline and the demise of the Glossopteris forests in the initial stages of the end-Permian mass extinction event (~1–2 Myr). Simultaneous eruptions along multiple arcs around the globe occurred at the same time as eastern Australia. In conjunction, these global eruptions are considered as a trigger of greenhouse crises and ecosystem stress that preceded the catastrophic eruption of the Siberian Traps.

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Fig. 1: Global arc activity on the Pangea supercontinent at circa 253 Ma. Active volcanic arcs surrounded the margin of the supercontinent at the end of the Permian.
Fig. 2: Geological maps of eastern Australia Permian/Triassic magmatism.
Fig. 3: Eastern Australia magmatic flare-up.
Fig. 4: Eastern Australia flare-up and the end-Permian mass extinction.

Data availability

The raw geochronological data for the paper have been deposited in EARTHCHEM (https://doi.org/10.26022/IEDA/112231). The authors declare that all other data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its supplementary information files, with their sources annotated in the text.

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Acknowledgements

T.C. acknowledges funding via the University of New England Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme and resources at the School of Environment and Rural Sciences. I.M. acknowledges funding provided by the Australian Research Council Grant DP109288. P.L.B. publishes with the permission of the ED of the Geological Survey of NSW. We appreciate helpful comments on the work provided by G. Clarke, K. Bull, J. Paterson, N. Campione, N. Daczko and J. S. Lackey.

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T.C, L.A.M., I.M and P.L.B initiated the project and contributed to the analysis of the data. J.C. completed the data collection and interpretation. All authors contributed to writing and reviewing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Timothy Chapman.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Plot of 206Pb/238U dates obtained by CA-TIMS.

Plotted with Isoplot 3.0 (Ref. 71). Weighted mean dates are shown and represented by the grey boxes. The ages included or precluded for the weighted mean calculations are displayed by black and white bars encompassing errors at 2σ.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Representative collated images of analysed zircon grains from the Wandsworth Volcanic Group and New England Batholith.

The top panel is reflected light images, the middle panel are incident light images and bottom panel is cathodoluminescence (CL) images. Individual samples are labelled.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Representative collated images of analysed zircon grains from the Wandsworth Volcanic Group and New England Batholith.

The top panel is reflected light images, the middle panel are incident light images and bottom panel is cathodoluminescence (CL) images. Individual samples are labelled.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Representative cathodoluminescence (CL) images of zircon. Zircon grains come from the Kings Plain Ignimbrite (19KP02), the Annalee Pyroclastics (01B) and the Weean Ignimbrite (19GI05).

Please insert a caption here.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Geological map of the southern New England Orogen. Map includes Cenozoic cover, displaying spatio-temporal relationships of magmatism and the Wandsworth Volcanic Group from c. 300–200 Ma.

Please insert a caption here.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Depth estimates.

(a) Histogram of exposed surface area of volcanic and pluton rocks along the eastern Australia margin during the Permian–Triassic. (b) Average Sr/Y ratios of volcanic or plutons rocks during the Permian–Triassic, uncertainty bounds encompass 1σ distribution.

Extended Data Table 1 Wandsworth Volcanic Group sample location and age summary

Supplementary information

Supplementary Data 1

CA-TIMS U–Pb zircon analysis for the Wandsworth Volcanic Group. Includes concordia plots of U–Pb CA-TIMS dates plotted with Isoplot 3.0 (ref. 71). Errors are at 2σ.

Supplementary Data 2

LA-ICPMS U–Pb zircon analysis of the Wandsworth Volcanic Group.

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Chapman, T., Milan, L.A., Metcalfe, I. et al. Pulses in silicic arc magmatism initiate end-Permian climate instability and extinction. Nat. Geosci. 15, 411–416 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00934-1

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