What created all the magma in the first place?

The cause of flood basalts is a big question in science. Two important facts: first, the mantle of the Earth is solid, but it flows very slowly, and second, most magma on Earth is produced by bringing hot solid rock closer to the Earth’s surface and thus releasing pressure from it (not by just heating it up, as we do to melt things here at the surface). A leading idea is that plumes of hot solid rock occasionally rise up through the Earth’s mantle from near its base. The plume begins to melt by pressure release as it rises toward the bottom of the tectonic plate. The resulting magma percolates upward through the plate and eventually erupts.

What is the relevance of this project to the current day?

The Earth is experiencing climate change now due to changes in the composition of the atmosphere. We think the atmosphere at the end-Permian was changed significantly by output from these volcanoes, and that the chemicals were similar to those going into the atmosphere today.

Who funds all this work?

Our project is mainly funded by the National Science Foundation, with additional funds from a Norwegian Center for Excellence, the Russian Academy, and from the Jeptha H. and Emily V. Wade Fund.

Is it very cold in Siberia?

During wintertime these regions are bitterly cold. We’ve been out in the field in July and August, and have experienced everything from snow to 90°F.

Can I come with you to Siberia?

Unfortunately we can’t bring many people on our trips, because of the difficulty of permissions, the expense, and the limited space in helicopters and boats. We love it, though, when people are interested in what we do, and we’re happy to share photos and give lectures.

Is there an eruption like the Siberian flood basalts on Earth now?

There is no flood basalt eruption on Earth today. The most recent was the Columbia River flood basalts, which erupted about 16 million years ago in what is now the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho

Were there large volcanoes in Siberia at the time of eruption?

The eruptions in Siberia may not have built up mountains, the way volcanoes in the Andes or Japan have done. The greatest volume of the lava probably poured out fissures, as it sometimes does in Iceland. The tuffs, from explosive eruption, may have been produced by many small explosive vents that left behind craters rather than hills.