Mysteries of the Deccan Traps

Mysteries of the Deccan Traps

Have you observed that some hills on the Maharashtrian parts of the Western Ghats have a stair-like appearance? Trekking these rocky steps in the monsoon, amidst the lush-green landscape towards cloud-kissed summits, with tiny waterfalls trickling down, can refresh a tired soul. About 66 million years ago, this region was anything but serene! A massive volcanic explosion spewed hot magma from the earth’s interior for about 30,000 years without a break. At that time, this flowing magma covered almost half of today’s India! As it flowed, it cooled and solidified, creating a geological wonder called the ‘Deccan Traps’.

The volcanic explosion was so intense that it released large amounts of gases like sulphur dioxide, which prevented the Sun’s radiation from reaching the earth. As a result, there was a drop of about two-degree Celsius on earth, which was powerful enough to cause the extinction of dinosaurs. For a long time, it was believed that an asteroid hit the earth at Chicxulub in Mexico, creating a crater and wiping off dinos. However, recent studies show that the volcanic activities in the Deccan Traps may have played a significant role in that extinction. While some believe that the volcanoes disrupted the climate throughout the planet that ultimately caused a mass extinction, others say that the asteroid was the primary reason while the volcanic eruption, which happened at the same time, exacerbated the effect of the collision. The debate on what exactly killed the dinosaurs remains wide open.

Today, owing to erosion and changes in the earth’s crust over the years, the area of the Deccan Traps is just about a third of its original size. Nevertheless, many magmatic rocks remain to tell a tale of their turbulent past to paleobiologists and geologists. Their interiors contain a mysterious world of fossils, which scientists are now beginning to explore. So far, fossils of primitive frogs, including those with teeth, diatoms, and molluscs, have been recovered. As a biodiversity hotspot, the Deccan Traps continues to brim with life, some of which may not yet be known to science.