Contemporaneous mass extinctions, continental flood basalts, and `impact signals': are mantle plume-induced lithospheric gas explosions the causal link?
Contemporaneous occurrences of the geologic signals of 'large impacts', craton-associated continental flood basalts, and mass extinctions have occurred far too often during the past 400 Myr to be plausibly attributed to random coincidence. While there is only a 1 in 8 chance that even one synchronous large impact within the interval of a continental flood basalt and mass extinction event should have happened during this period, there is now geologic evidence of four such 'coincidences', implying causal links between them. The ∼66 Ma (K-T) evidence suggests that impacts do not trigger flood basalts, since the Deccan flood basalt had started erupting well before the Chicxulub impact event. If extraterrestrial impacts do not trigger continental flood basalt volcanism, then we are really only left with two possible resolutions to the dilemma posed by these mega-coincidences: either the reported 'impact signals' at the times of great mass extinctions are spurious or misleading, or - somehow - a terrestrial process linked to continental rifting and the eruption of cratonic flood basalts is sometimes able to generate the shocked quartz, microspherules, and other geologic traces commonly attributed to large extraterrestrial impacts, while also triggering a mass extinction event. Here we explore a promising mechanistic link: a large explosive carbon-rich gas release event from cratonic lithosphere, triggered by mantle plume incubation beneath cratonic lithosphere, and typically associated with the onset phase of continental rifting. Sudden CO2/CO and SO2 release into the atmosphere would provide the primary killing mechanism of the induced extinction event. Such explosive deep-lithospheric blasts could create shock waves, cavitation, and mass jet formation within the venting region that could both create and transport a sufficiently large mass of shocked crust and mantle into globally dispersive super-stratospheric trajectories. We suggest these be called 'Verneshot' events.