International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 95, Issue 6, pp 1065–1070 | Cite as

Gigantic volcanic eruptions and climatic change in the early Eocene

  • Hans Egger
  • Ewald Brückl
Original Paper


23 layers of altered volcanic ash (bentonites) originating from the North Atlantic Igneous Province have been recorded in early Eocene deposits of the Austrian Alps, about 1,900 km away from the source area. The Austrian bentonites are distal equivalents of the “main ash-phase” in Denmark and the North Sea basin. We have calculated the total eruption volume of this series as 21,000 km3, which occurred in 600,000 years. The most powerful single eruption of this series took place 54.0 million years ago (Ma) and ejected ca. 1,200 km3 of ash material, which makes it one of the largest basaltic pyroclastic eruptions in geological history. The clustering of eruptions must have significantly affected the incoming solar radiation in the early Eocene by the continuous production of stratospheric dust and aerosol clouds. This hypothesis is corroborated by oxygen isotope values, which indicate a global decrease of sea surface temperatures between 1 and 2°C during this major phase of explosive volcanism.


Early Eocene Austria Northern Atlantic Volcanic eruptions Climatic change 



We are grateful to Andy Saunders and Wolf-Christian Dullo for their helpful reviews of the manuscript. We are also indebted to Lotte Larsen, David Pyle, Hugh Rice, and Lisa Sloan for constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geological Survey of AustriaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Vienna University of TechnologyViennaAustria

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