Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Iridium at Kilauea



Trace-element anomalies observed in rocks located stratigraphically at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary are considered significant evidence that the boundary is a record of a large meteorite impact (Science, 208, 1095–1108, 1980). In particular, trace metals, including iridium and other members of the platinum metals group, are thought to be enriched in rocks alien to the earth's surface. These elements are indeed enriched in meteorites relative to earth crustal rocks, but new evidence from analyses of the January 1983 eruption of Kilauea suggest that the analogy may be invalid. W.H. Zoller, J.R. Parrington, and J.M. Phelan Kotra reported neutron activation analyses of airborne particulate matter collected at the Mauna Loa Observatory and found “strikingly” large concentrations of iridium in addition to element concentrations expected from volcanic emissions (Science, 222, 1118, 1983). The only other platinum-group trace metal analyzed was gold, which was also found to be anomalously high. They concede that they need more data of other platinum group elements and more data on other volcanos, but the implication is that the Cretacious-Tertiary boundary may well be volcanic, not due to a large meteorite impact.