Mars Earth NASAThere’s no shortage of candidates for the cause of the mass extinctions of prehistory. But experts have found flaws in every one.

Asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Yucatan clearly played a role in the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65,000,000 years ago, though scientists point to the serious disruptions that had begun hundreds of thousands of years before with the basalt flows of the Deccan Traps.1 Giant basalt lava flows that poisoned the atmosphere and oceans played a role in four or perhaps all five major extinctions. But other enormous basalt flows have not caused extinctions, nor did they cause the tsunamis associated with various extinctions.2  Researchers have suggested many other mechanisms, but there’s no consensus at all.

Lurking in the background, however, is a quite plausible cause, one that would have possessed the power to set off the volcanic activity, air pollution, sea level shifts, loss of oxygen in oceans, climate changes, and other phenomena associated with the extinctions.

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