The last 500 million years of Earth’s history have been punctuated by numerous episodes of abrupt climate change, some of them coincident with mass extinction events. Many of these climate events have been associated with massive volcanism, occurring during the emplacement of so-called Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs). Because of the significant impact of small modern eruptions on the Earth’s climate, a link between LIP volcanism and past climate change has been strongly advocated. Geochemical investigations of the sedimentary records which record major climate changes can give a profound insight into the proposed interactions between volcanic activity and climate. Mercury is a trace-gas emitted by modern volcanoes, which are the main source of this metal to the atmosphere. Ultimately atmospheric mercury is deposited in sediments, thus if enrichments in mercury are observed in sediments of the same age across the globe, a volcanic cause of these enrichments might be inferred. Osmium isotopes can also be used as a fingerprint of volcanic activity, as primitive basalts are enriched in unradiogenic 188Os. However, the continental crust is enriched in radiogenic 187Os. Therefore, the 187Os/188Os ratio can change with either more volcanic activity, or increased continental weathering during climate change. Changes in sedimentary mercury content and osmium isotopes can thus be used as markers of volcanism or weathering during climate events. However, a possible future step would be to quantify the amount of volcanism and/or weathering on the basis of these sedimentary excursions. The final part of this talk will introduce some simple quantitative models which may represent a first step towards such quantification, with the aim of further elaborating these models in the future.
- Mathematical Geoscience Seminar