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Supernova triggers for end:Devonian extinctions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Brian D. Fields, Adrian L. Melott, John Ellis, Adrienne F. Ertel, Brian J. Fry, Bruce S. Lieberman, Zhenghai Liu, Jesse A. Miller, Brian C. Thomas

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21008-21010
Number of pages3
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume117
Issue number35
DOIs
Published1 Sep 2020

King's Authors

Abstract

The Late Devonian was a protracted period of low speciation resulting in biodiversity decline, culminating in extinction events near the Devonian–Carboniferous boundary. Recent evidence indicates that the final extinction event may have coincided with a dramatic drop in stratospheric ozone, possibly due to a global temperature rise. Here we study an alternative possible cause for the postulated ozone drop: a nearby supernova explosion that could inflict damage by accelerating cosmic rays that can deliver ionizing radiation for up to ∼ 100 ky. We therefore propose that the end-Devonian extinctions were triggered by supernova explosions at ∼ 20 pc, somewhat beyond the “kill distance” that would have precipitated a full mass extinction. Such nearby supernovae are likely due to core collapses of massive stars; these are concentrated in the thin Galactic disk where the Sun resides. Detecting either of the long-lived radioisotopes 146Sm or 244Pu in one or more end-Devonian extinction strata would confirm a supernova origin, point to the core-collapse explosion of a massive star, and probe supernova nucleosynthesis. Other possible tests of the supernova hypothesis are discussed.

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