The eruptions, which spewed about 500,000 cubic kilometers (120,000 cubic miles) of lava over half a million years, killed more than half of the life on the planet in the Middle Permian period, said Paul Wignal, lead author of the study in tomorrow’s edition of the journal Science. That loss of life is called the Guadalupian mass extinction.
The eruptions in southwest China’s Emeishan province, which left deposits of lava 200 meters (656 feet) deep in some spots, were discovered about a decade ago and Wignal and colleagues were the first to study them, he said. What they found proved to be a rarity — direct evidence of volcanism and a massive die- off of marine life. “This link between the extinction and the volcanoes are perfect,” said Wignal, 45, who teaches at the University of Leeds in Leeds, U.K., in a telephone interview yesterday.