WEAPONS FOR MASS EXTINCTIONS: U-PB GEOCHRONOLOGY APPLIED TO CONSTRAINING CATASTROPHES
Using data from mass extinctions as an example, this talk explores available tools to bear on the problem. 1) Geochemistry on the same zircons dated by ID-TIMS can help test the assumption of cogenetic zircon growth required for robust weighted-mean dates, because zircons having crystallized in the same batch of magma immediately before eruption should have the same trace element signature. 2) A Bayesian approach to building age models for stratigraphic sections that incorporates the law of superposition and individual zircon date uncertainty distributions.
By releasing the assumption of zircon age homogeneity required for weighted means and increasing the importance of single analyses, tests of laboratory reproducibility are essential. Efforts through the EARTHTIME initiative over the last decade, such as the mixing, calibration, and distribution of tracer solutions, have improved interlaboratory agreement in U-Pb ID-TIMS geochronology to better than 0.1%. This work must continue as we demand more precise interpretations of the synchroneity between mass extinctions, their drivers, and associated environmental change.