Do Earth Lavas and Lunar Lavas Flow Simultaneously?

Mineral Moon.  From

A former collaborator recently contacted me with an interesting possible correlation he’d found. I’ll describe his correlation by posing a few relevant questions:

  1. Are massive volcanic events on Earth periodic?

    The geologic record on Earth presents multiple episodes of concentrated emplacements of basaltic magma near and lava on its surface. These “Large Igneous Provinces” (LIPs) include the Deccan Traps in India, the Siberian Traps in Russia, and the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province spread across the continental coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. All three of these LIPs have been incriminated in a mass turnover in the Earth’s ecology – for example, the Siberian Traps lava flows occurred around the same time as the greatest extinction event since the Paleozoic, the Permian-Triassic cataclysm.

    There have been attempts to show that these episodes happen at roughly regular time intervals, but these attempts are accepted by only a small subset of the geologic community. Were these events truly periodic, it would represent something like the pulse of the Earth. What could possibly cause the Earth to pump massive amounts of basaltic magma towards its surface over and over, on a regular schedule?

  2. Does the Solar System’s motion through the Milky Way galaxy affect deep planetary processes? Or, anything else on the planets for that matter?

    It has been shown that our Solar System passes up and down through the plane of the galaxy while orbiting the galactic center, and that the time between crossings takes anywhere from 26 to 37 million years. Some statisticians have suggested that a hypothesized periodicity in mass ecologic transformation of ~26 Myr could coincide, and be caused by, this galactic period.

    My friend passed me one paper that suggested various other effects on the Earth due to these galactic passages. The author, Michael Rampino, attributed these effects to interaction of dark matter particles in the core of the Earth. Rampino posits that, were dark matter composed of the mooted Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), these WIMPs could be captured in the Earth’s gravity well, collide, and be mutually annihilated within the core, causing the release of potentially enormous amounts of heat (>= 1019 W). This amount of heat generated in the Earth’s core could raise the core’s temperature hundreds of degrees K within only a few thousand years.

    That amount of heat could certainly drive mantle plumes to the Earth’s surface, and generate emplacements of massive amounts of basalt.

  3. Are Lunar volcanic events connected with terrestrial LIP emplacements?

    Whether they are or not, Braden et al. (2014) catalogue emplacement dates of Lunar basaltic volcanism over the past 100 million years. Here is where my friend’s coincidence occurs.

    Lunar events:
    • 18 Myr (+/- 1 Myr) — “Sosigenes IMP,” covering 4.5 km2
    • 33 Myr (+/- 2 Myr) — “Ina,” covering 1.7 km2
    • 58 Myr (+/- 4 Myr) — “Cauchy-5 IMP,” covering 1.3 km2

    Earth LIP events:
    • 15.3ā€“16.6 Myr — “Columbia River Flood Basalts”
    • 29.5ā€“31 Myr — “Ethiopian and Yemen traps”
    • 54ā€“57 Myr — “North Atlantic Tertiary Volc. Prov. 2”

    These seem pretty regular – the Lunar events occur about 3 million years after the corresponding Terrestrial events. Of course, for comparison, the Siberian Traps LIP, which is the largest basaltic emplacement event known on Earth, appears to only have lasted 2 million years.

  4. The big question

    My first reaction was that large-scale periodic processes are suspicious. My geology thesis advisor once mentioned that the two big “flashy” geologic paper topics are either periodic events or biggest things ever. Maybe that was what informed by knee jerk. It’s interesting that one source Rampino cites as critical to these kinds of periodicities, specifically periodicity in geomagnetic reversals, was my advisor’s husband Tim Lutz.

    But my friend’s question isn’t really about periodic processes. There is a deeper issue here.

    Statistical coincidence is not correlation, especially when the data set is small (e.g. three terrestrial-lunar coincidences). However, the human mind is wired to look for coincidences like this, because it thirsts for evidence of hidden causes. No true cause of physical phenomena can be perceived by the senses. The cause always must be inferred by witnessing sensible events that shouldn’t happen without the cause. Strange coincidences can be just the thing that betrays a hidden cause.

    For example, you are able to read this article because of a principle called light. You can’t see light. Light is a principle that generates the relationship between the observer and the observed that we call “seeing”. It took a lot of work by a lot of creative people (Huyghens, Fresnel, Planck, and Einstein to name a few) to clothe the principle of light with the appropriate geometry and mathematics, so we can understand how it works. You can see the geometric and mathematical descriptions of light, but you still can’t see light. Because the math and geometry can generate predictions about the effects of light, we know that light is a real principle that exists.

    The human mind is designed to hunt for, and understand, these hidden principles that cause sensible artifacts to exist.

    Rampino identified several apparently linked processes – passage of the solar system through the galactic plane, and the periodicity of emplacement of terrestrial LIPs, terrestrial extinctions, and impact cratering – and suggested a possible hidden cause: dark matter annihilation. My former collaborator identified another possible linked process: basalt flows on the Moon happen with the same frequency as those on the Earth. This certainly doesn’t prove that dark matter causes basaltic upwellings, but may indicate that the cause of these deep geologic process is located outside of either celestial body.

    Maybe, in this way, the planets are functioning as something like seismometers, recording the action of something unseen, which acts according to our stellar system’s distance from the galactic plane. Stone telescope, indeed!

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