The timing and duration of the Karoo igneous event, southern Gondwana


  • R. A. Duncan,

  • P. R. Hooper,

  • J. Rehacek,

  • J. S. Marsh,

  • A. R. Duncan


A volcanic event of immense scale occurred within a relatively short period in early Jurassic time over large regions of the contiguous Gondwana supercontinent. In southern Africa, associated remnants of thick volcanic successions of lava flows and extensive dike and sill complexes of similar composition have been grouped together as the Karoo Igneous Province. Correlative volcanic and plutonic rocks occur in Antarctica and Australia as the Ferrar Province. Thirty-two new 40Ar-39Ar incremental heating experiments on feldspars and whole rocks from Namibia, South Africa and East Antarctica produce highly resolved ages with a vast majority at 183±1 Ma and a total range of 184 to 179 Ma. These are indistinguishable from recent, high-resolution 40Ar-39Ar and U-Pb age determinations reported from the Antarctic portion of the province. Initial Karoo volcanism (Lesotho-type compositions) occurred across the entire South African craton. The ubiquitous distribution of a plexus of generally nonoriented feeder dikes and sills intruding Precambrian crystalline rocks and Phanerozoic sediments indicates that these magmas penetrated the craton over a broad region. Lithosphere thinning of the continent followed the main pulse of igneous activity, with volcanism focused in the Lebombo-Nuanetsi region, near the eventual split between Africa and Antarctica. Seafloor spreading and dispersion of east and west Gondwana followed some 10–20 m.y. afterward. The volume of the combined Karoo-Ferrar province (∼2.5×106 km3) makes it one of the largest continental flood basalt events. The timing of this event correlates with a moderate mass extinction (Toarcian-Aalenian), affecting largely marine invertebrates. This extinction event was not as severe as those recorded at the Permian-Triassic or Cretaceous-Tertiary boundaries associated with the Siberian and Deccan flood basalts events, respectively. The difference may be due to the high southerly latitude and somewhat lower eruption rates of the Karoo event.