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Friday, 26 November, 1999, 01:36 GMT
Lunar link to volcanic past
volcano erupting Dramatic volcanic events may have been caused by the moon

By BBC Science Correspondent Helen Briggs

French scientists have put forward an intriguing new theory for what caused catastrophic volcanic activity on our planet hundreds of millions of years ago, which led to the rise of the dinosaurs.

Researchers from Paris and Strasbourg say the moon, already known to generate tides in the ocean, could have had a much greater impact on the Earth's early history than was previously thought.

dinosaurs Violent volcanic eruptions paved the way for the dinosaurs
In a report published in the journal Science they suggest that three times in the history of life on Earth, the Moon, together with the Sun, caused oscillations in inside of the Earth, perhaps with volcanic results.

This could account for some of Earth's more dramatic geological events, such as the splitting of continents and oceans.

Species wiped out

One of these, around 300 million years ago, wiped out the majority of animal species and paved the way for the rise of the dinosaurs.

Oscillations at certain points in history created tension in the heart of the Earth, according to the French team's model.

This was converted into heat, causing molten rock to spill out of the ground, changing the face of our planet.

A scientist at the Department of Earth Science at Leeds University has described the idea as "ingenious."

"It could help us understand catastrophic events in the Earth's history", Dr Andy Jackson said.
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