Mars volcano, Earth's dinosaurs went extinct about the same time

Mars volcano, Earth's dinosaurs went extinct about the same time
This digital-image mosaic of Mars' Tharsis plateau shows the extinct volcano Arsia Mons. It was assembled from images that the Viking 1 Orbiter took during its 1976-1980 working life at Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS

New NASA research reveals that the giant Martian shield volcano Arsia Mons produced one new lava flow at its summit every 1 to 3 million years during the final peak of activity. The last volcanic activity there ceased about 50 million years ago—around the time of Earth's Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, when large numbers of our planet's plant and animal species (including dinosaurs) went extinct.

Located just south of Mars' equator, Arsia Mons is the southernmost member of a trio of broad, gently sloping shield volcanoes collectively known as Tharsis Montes. Arsia Mons was built up over billions of years, though the details of its lifecycle are still being worked out. The most recent is thought to have taken place in the caldera—the bowl-shaped depression at the top—where 29 volcanic vents have been identified. Until now, it's been difficult to make a precise estimate of when this volcanic field was active.

"We estimate that the peak activity for the volcanic field at the summit of Arsia Mons probably occurred approximately 150 million years ago—the late Jurassic period on Earth—and then died out around the same time as Earth's dinosaurs," said Jacob Richardson, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "It's possible, though, that the last or two might have been active in the past 50 million years, which is very recent in geological terms."

Richardson is presenting the findings on March 20, 2017, at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. The study also is published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Measuring about 68 miles (110 kilometers) across, the caldera is deep enough to hold the entire volume of water in Lake Huron, and then some. Examining the volcanic features within the caldera required high-resolution imaging, which the researchers obtained from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The team mapped the boundaries of the lava flows from each of the 29 volcanic vents and determined the stratigraphy, or layering, of the flows. The researchers also performed a technique called crater counting—tallying up the number of craters at least 330 feet (100 meters) in diameter—to estimate the ages of the flows.

Using a new computer model developed by Richardson and his colleagues at the University of South Florida, the two types of information were combined to determine the volcanic equivalent of a batting lineup for Arsia Mons' 29 vents. The oldest flows date back about 200 million years. The youngest flows probably occurred 10 to 90 million years ago—most likely around 50 million years ago.

The modeling also yielded estimates of the volume flux for each lava flow. At their peak about 150 million years ago, the vents in the Arsia Mons' caldera probably collectively produced about 1 to 8 cubic kilometers of magma every million years, slowly adding to the volcano's size.

"Think of it like a slow, leaky faucet of magma," said Richardson. "Arsia Mons was creating about one volcanic vent every 1 to 3 million years at the peak, compared to one every 10,000 years or so in similar regions on Earth."

A better understanding of when volcanic activity on Mars took place is important because it helps researchers understand the Red Planet's history and interior structure.

"A major goal of the Mars volcanology community is to understand the anatomy and lifecycle of the planet's volcanoes. Mars' volcanoes show evidence for activity over a larger time span than those on Earth, but their histories of magma production might be quite different," said Jacob Bleacher, a planetary geologist at Goddard and a co-author on the study. "This study gives us another clue about how activity at Arsia Mons tailed off and the huge volcano became quiet."

Explore further

Research finds evidence of 2 billion years of volcanic activity on Mars

More information: Jacob A. Richardson et al. Recurrence rate and magma effusion rate for the latest volcanism on Arsia Mons, Mars, Earth and Planetary Science Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2016.10.040
Citation: Mars volcano, Earth's dinosaurs went extinct about the same time (2017, March 20) retrieved 19 July 2019 from
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Mar 21, 2017
I can't help but wonder what may have been happening in our solar system around this time that could include both events - if at all. Most likely none but human curiosity tries to find connections when there's little information combined with (relatively) close events. So much more to learn.
I wish I could go in stasis and pop out about once every ten years to catch up on science progress and take in new foods and entertainment for about a week then pop back in. Life is too short to contain my curiosity. And of course I wonder why ha!

Mar 21, 2017
Hands down the worst article title I have ever seen on this site. There is no plausible connection between the K-T extinction 65mya and Martian volcanoes that stopped erupting 15 million years later. The way the article is written also fosters the faulty idea that there might be some connection. Martian volcanoes are interesting, this article needs to be re-written w/o the clickbait grade title & other faults.

Mar 21, 2017
@nrauhauser said it all. Nothing to add.
Articles like this one shouldn't be published.

Mar 21, 2017
what to do when people are interested in dinosaurs and not mars volcanos?. Easy put a title that have dinosaur in it and after the short introduction, never mention dinosaur again, cause they don't have any relations between those two events.

Mar 21, 2017
Not an issue with the paper, but with the article above:
deep enough to hold the entire volume of water in Lake Huron, and then some

This seems like a particular useless measure.
1) Anyone have an idea how much water is in lake Huron (without looking it up)
2) How much more is "and then some"? 5%? 50%? 80%?

Mar 27, 2017
On the morning 18 Jan 2017, my wife vacuumed the lower floor of our house. Less than 30 minutes later an earthquake shook central Italy. Coincidence, Elizabeth?

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