Scientists Reconstruct What Happened The Day The Dinosaurs Died

The Liftboat Myrtle. Image Credit University of Texas

The Liftboat Myrtle. Image Credit University of Texas

"The asteroid impact that formed the Chicxulub crater on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, where this research was carried out, is thought to be the cause of the late Cretaceous Period mass extinction event which led to 76 per cent of all plant and animal species world-wide, including all non-flying dinosaurs, being killed off".

The new research showed scientists that the impact "created a enormous 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.

"Not all the dinosaurs died that day, but many dinosaurs did", Gulick said.

A large team of researchers collected the cylindrical rock samples from hundreds of feet below the seafloor and analysed them as part of a mission with the International Ocean Discovery Program, an organisation that funds various seafloor research projects.

The impact caused wildfires, tsunamis and put so much sulphur into the atmosphere that it blocked the sun.

This breakneck rate of accumulation means the rocks record exactly what was happening within and around the crater at the time.

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Researchers said the impact was equal to the power of 10 billion atomic bombs the size of the one used in World War II. It then created a massive heat pulse that raised temperatures in regions over 900 miles away from the impact zone.

Charcoal and a chemical biomarker linked to soil fungi were also found within or above layers of sand in the impact crater.

This showed experts that the burnt landscape was pulled into the crater with the waters of the tsunami.

Within tens of minutes of the strike, the ring of rock around the impact point was smothered in about 40 meters of melted rock. "It was a momentous day in the history of life, and this is a very clear documentation of what happened at ground zero", he said in a statement. The area around the crater is full of sulfur-rich rocks, and yet no sulfur was found within the core samples. But there was no sulfur in the core.

Researchers probing the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs find evidence of wildfires and tsunami in the rocks at ground zero. This caused an unprecedented cooling event which, in turn, led to the extinction of the (non-avian) dinosaurs. Scientists think the earth cooled dramatically after sulfur was released into the atmosphere, blocking the sun and killing off life. This may be explained by the asteroid's ability to vaporize any minerals that might have held sulfur, thereby releasing an estimated 225 billion metric tons of sulfur into the atmosphere.

Professor Sean Gulick, who led the study, told CNN: "For me personally, successfully collecting the cores from the peak ring of the Chicxulub crater was the fruit of years of proposal writing and planning made reality". If you were elsewhere on Earth the first effect might well be the natural disaster energy arriving through the ground from the impact or perhaps the arrival of ejecta from the crater raining down and causing heating and wildfires.

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