~214 Ma – LATE TRIASSIC (extinction at the Carnian/Norian boundary – 227 Ma)

80% of species lost — Conodont teeth 1 mm

Palaeontologists were baffled about the origin of these toothy fragments, mistaking them for bits of clams or sponges. But the discovery of an intact fossil in Scotland in the 1980s finally revealed their owner – a jawless eel-like vertebrate named the conodont which boasted this remarkable set of teeth lining its mouth and throat. They were one of the first structures built from hydroxyapatite, a calcium-rich mineral that remains  a key component of our own bones and teeth today.  Of all the great extinctions, the one that ended the Triassic is the most enigmatic. No clear cause has been found.

Scientists reported in the journal Nature today (March 13, 1998) that they had found evidence of a chain of five craters formed 214 million years ago that was likely due to pieces of a comet crashing into the Earth’s surface, similar to the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact on Jupiter in 1994. The craters no longer appear to be in a straight line due the shifting of the Earth’s continents due to plate tectonics. Two of the craters, Manicouagan and Saint Martin, are in Canada (Quebec and Manitoba, respectively). The other three craters are Rochechouart in Europe, Obolon in the Ukraine and Red Wing in Minnesota. The impacts appeared to occur at the Norian stage of the Triassic period, about six million years after a mass extinction that wiped out 80% of all the species on Earth, but the ages of all the craters are uncertain enough to include this extinction (from Science Web Daily).


The 34-million-year (My) interval of the Late Triassic is marked by the formation of several large impact structures on Earth. Late Triassic impact events have been considered a factor in biotic extinction events in the Late Triassic (e.g., end-Triassic extinction event), but this scenario remains controversial because of a lack of stratigraphic records of ejecta deposits. Here, we report evidence for an impact event (platinum group elements anomaly with nickel-rich magnetite and microspherules) from the middle Norian (Upper Triassic) deep-sea sediment in Japan. This includes anomalously high abundances of iridium, up to 41.5 parts per billion (ppb), in the ejecta deposit, which suggests that the iridiumenriched ejecta layers of the Late Triassic may be found on a global scale. The ejecta deposit is constrained by microfossils that suggest correlation with the 215.5-Mya, 100-km-wide Manicouagan impact crater in Canada. Our analysis of radiolarians shows no evidence of a mass extinction event across the impact event horizon, and no contemporaneous faunal turnover is seen in other marine planktons. However, such an event has been reported among marine faunas and terrestrial tetrapods and floras in North America. We, therefore, suggest that the Manicouagan impact triggered the extinction of terrestrial and marine organisms near the impact site but not within the pelagic marine realm (Onoue, Tetsuji, October 2012).

Summary of impact structures in the Late Triassic.

A) Map showing the palaeo-position and distribution of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) and the studied sections in the US, Morocco and UK in pre-drift position for the end-Triassic. B) Summary of the correlation-tools used to correlate the terrestrial and marine sections. Main events recognized in the different sections are shown in italic. GPTS: Geomagnetic Polarity Time Scale.

Did the Manicouagan impact trigger end-of-Triassic mass extinction?

J. P. Hodych, G. R. Dunning
We use U-Pb zircon dating to test whether the bolide impact that created the Manicouagan crater of Quebec also triggered mass extinction at the Triassic/Jurassic boundary. The age of the impact is provided by zircons from the impact melt rock on the crater floor; we show that the zircons yield a U-Pb age of 214 ±1 Ma. The age of the Triassic/Jurassic boundary is provided by zircons from the North Mountain Basalt of the Newark Supergroup of Nova Scotia; the zircons yield a U-Pb age of 202 ±1 Ma. This should be the age of the end-of-Triassic mass extinction that paleontology and sedimentation rates suggest occurred less than 1 m.y. before extrusion of the North Mountain Basalt. Although the Manicouagan impact could thus not have triggered the mass extinction at the Triassic/Jurassic boundary (impact likely having preceded extinction by 12 ±2 m.y.), the impact may possibly have triggered an earlier mass extinction at the Carnian/Norian boundary – 227Ma, in the Late Triassic. (Geology (1992)

The Triassic-Jurassic Extinction – Volcanic? 

The end-Triassic mass extinction, with more than 50% genus loss in both marine and continental realms, is one of the five periods of major biodiversity loss in Earth’s history and provides an eminent case history of global biosphere turnover. Massive volcanism through largescale flood basalt eruptions is the favoured terrestrial culprit. The end-Triassic is marked by Large Igneous Province (LIP) emplacement of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP). Deenen et al, 2009.


Boyle, D.R. et al, Geochemistry, geology, and isotopic (Sr, S, and B) composition of evaporites in the Lake St. Martin impact structure: New constraints on the age of melt rock formation,GEOCHEMISTRY GEOPHYSICS GEOSYSTEMS, VOL. 8, 2007.

M.H.L. Deenen, M. Ruhl, N.R. Bonis,W. Krijgsman, W.M. Kuerschner, M. Reitsma, M.J. van Bergen, A new chronology for the end-Triassic mass extinction. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 2009.

Donofrio, R.R., North American impact structures hold giant field potential. Oil and Gas Journal, 1998.

Donofrio, R.R.: Impact Craters: Implications for Basement Hydrocarbon Production. Journal of Petroleum Geology, 1981.

Grieve, R.A.F., Impact structures in Canada, Geological Association of Canada, no. 5, 2006.

Robertson, P.B., Grieve, R.A.F., Impact Structures in Canada: their recognition and characteristics. The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, February 1975.

Smith, R. Dark days of the Triassic: Lost world – Did a giant impact 200 million years ago trigger a mass extinction and pave the way for the dinosaurs? NATURE 17 Nov. Vol#479 2011.

Tetsuji Onouea, et al; Deep-sea record of impact apparently unrelated to mass extinction in the Late Triassic. Rutgers University/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, October 3, 2012

Poag C. W, Chesapeake Invader, 1999.

Earth Impact Database