Another Kind of Catastrophe for Dinosaur Extinction


While the well-known tale is that one kind of catastrophe drove the dinosaurs extinct, new research suggests another kind of catastrophe may have given them a leg up.

Scientists reporting in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that extensive volcanic activity may have helped dinosaurs become the dominant life-form on earth. The research links volcanoes to climatic changes that may have driven dinosaurs’ competitors extinct—much as a meteorite impact supposedly did to dinosaurs themselves millions of years later.

The basis for the study was geologic evidence said to be some 200 million years old, including preserved lava flows and plant material embedded in rocks. The flows show a fluctuation in carbon isotopes, which the scientists interpret as a sign of global climate change and extensive greenhouse-style warming. In their study, the scientist match this fluctuation (and the climate change they infer) with an extinction event thought to have killed half of all tetrapods and land plants at the time.

Brown University geologist Jessica Whiteside, lead author on the paper, explained, “We are showing that these events are synchronous with the extinction and that the events all occur within a few tens of thousands of years of the eruption of these huge lava flows.” However, the team does not know why such intense volcanic activity would have so devastated dinosaurs’ competitors but not dinosaurs.

Creationists consider the sediments studied by Whiteside’s team (i.e., Triassic sediments) to date from the catastrophic Flood year. This fits with what we know about the geological havoc wreaked on the earth that year: not only massive hydrological activity, but also extensive tectonic and volcanic events that would have had both immediate and long-lasting effects on the climate.

The creationist interpretation differs, however, in that the fossils do not indicate “extinction” (because all kinds were present on the Ark), but rather extensive death “only.” And what evolutionists interpret as dinosaurs’ appearance in “more recent” sediments (vis-à-vis the organisms thought to have become extinct), creationists instead credit to hydrologic and ecological factors. In creationists’ eyes, the volcanic activity, the climate change, and the record of death are all signs of the global Flood—and, ultimately, of God’s judgment of mankind’s wickedness.

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