Rock Samples From Impact Crater Reveal Details of Dinosaur Extinction

The Liftboat Myrtle. Image Credit University of Texas

Although the asteroid impact created mass destruction at the regional level, it was the change in global climate that caused a mass extinction, killing off the dinosaurs along with most other life on the planet at the time.

Through their discovery, the researchers were able to piece together the events that happened shortly after the asteroid collided with Earth.

Curtin University researchers who were part of a scientific expedition that retrieved core samples from a crater in the Gulf of Mexico have found evidence that the asteroid that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs also triggered a giant tsunami.

The new research showed scientists that the impact "created a very big tidal wave that washed across this continent, and really changed the face of the planet in that location - or, really, changed the face of the planet overall entirely", Pitts said.

Artist impression of the asteroid that is thought to have killed off the dinosaurs. When an asteroid the size of the Chicxulub impactor, estimated to be more than six miles wide, strikes a planet, material is ripped up from below the surface and tossed into the air, collapsing in circular mountain range within the crater. After a day, about 425 feet of material had accumulated, the highest rate of outpouring of rocks that has ever been recorded in Earth's geologic history.

From a dinosaur's perspective, that scenario meant either immediate death in the inferno or in the long period of global cooling that ensued.


Then, when the tsunami waters receded, they dragged a bunch of material - including dirt (indicated by the presence of biomarkers associated with soil fungus) and charcoal from burnt trees - back into the fresh crater. The Chicxulub crater is located offshore from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"What we have from drilling at ground zero is a fairly complete picture of how the crater formed and what the processes were within the crater on the first day of the Cenozoic", Gulick says.

'Not all the dinosaurs died that day - but many dinosaurs did'. "This suggests that the charred landscape was pulled into the crater with the receding waters of the tsunami", the researchers noted. The research, published Monday and reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, shows the asteroid caused wildfires and tsunamis after hitting with the impact of 10 billion WWII-era atomic bombs.

The new research allows scientists "to get a really clear snapshot" of what happened that day, according to Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Most interestingly, no sulphur was found in the core of the crater which supports the idea that when the asteroid hit, sulphur from the crater was released into the atmosphere. Geologists had detected and studied this effect before, but the new research reinforces the role this atmospheric disruption played in the extinction that followed.

"That's about 10,000 times more than the amount of sulphur released during the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, which cooled the Earth's climate by an average of 1.2°C for five years".

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