Large igneous provinces (LIPs) are known for their rapid production of enormous volumes of magma (up to several million cubic kilometres in less than a million years)1, for marked thinning of the lithosphere2, 3, often ending with a continental break-up, and for their links to global environmental catastrophes4, 5. Despite the importance of LIPs, controversy surrounds even the basic idea that they form through melting in the heads of thermal mantle plumes2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. The Permo-Triassic Siberian Traps11—the type example and the largest continental LIP1, 12—is located on thick cratonic lithosphere1, 12 and was synchronous with the largest known mass-extinction event1. However, there is no evidence of pre-magmatic uplift or of a large lithospheric stretching7, as predicted above a plume head2, 6, 9. Moreover, estimates of magmatic CO2 degassing from the Siberian Traps are considered insufficient to trigger climatic crises13, 14, 15, leading to the hypothesis that the release of thermogenic gases from the sediment pile caused the mass extinction15, 16. Here we present petrological evidence for a large amount (15 wt%) of dense recycled oceanic crust in the head of the plume and develop a thermomechanical model that predicts no pre-magmatic uplift and requires no lithospheric extension. The model implies extensive plume melting and heterogeneous erosion of the thick cratonic lithosphere over the course of a few hundred thousand years. The model suggests that massive degassing of CO2 and HCl, mostly from the recycled crust in the plume head, could alone trigger a mass extinction and predicts it happening before the main volcanic phase, in agreement with stratigraphic and geochronological data for the Siberian Traps and other LIPs5.
At a glance
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- Supplementary Information (3.5M)
This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures 1-6 with legends, additional references and Supplementary Tables 1-2.
- Supplementary Table 3 (2.3M)
This table contains the compositions of olivine and host lavas.
- Supplementary Movie 1 (3.5M)
This animated movie shows the evolution of the potential temperature (°C) in the model of the lithospheric destruction by the hot thermo-chemical plume. Model time in mln years is shown in the left corner. The solid curve marks the boundary of the depleted lithosphere.
- Supplementary Movie 2 (4.1M)
This animated movie shows the evolution of the chemical composition of the mantle (content of the pyroxenitic/eclogitic component), in the model of the lithospheric destruction by the hot thermo-chemical plume. Model time in mln years is shown in the left corner.