More Than a Meteor Likely Killed Dinosaurs 65 Million Years Ago

Oct 17, 2006
More Than a Meteor Likely Killed Dinosaurs 65 Million Years Ago
Geologists drilling in the Brazos River region of Texas have found new evidence for what killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Credit: Gerta Keller

Growing evidence shows that the dinosaurs and their contemporaries were not wiped out by the famed Chicxulub meteor impact alone, according to a paleontologist who says multiple meteor impacts, massive volcanism in India and climate changes culminated in the end of the Cretaceous Period.

The Chicxulub impact may have been the lesser and earlier of a series of meteor impacts and volcanic eruptions that pounded life on Earth for more than 500,000 years, say Princeton University paleontologist Gerta Keller and her collaborators Thierry Adatte from the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, and Zsolt Berner and Doris Stueben from Karlsruhe University in Germany.

A final, much larger and still unidentified impact 65.5 million years ago appears to have been the last straw, said Keller, exterminating two-thirds of all species in one of the largest mass extinction events in the history of life. It's that impact - not Chicxulub - that left the famous extraterrestrial iridium layer found in rocks worldwide that marks the impact that finally ended the Age of Reptiles, Keller believes.

"The Chicxulub impact alone could not have caused the mass extinction," said Keller, "because this impact predates the mass extinction."

Keller is scheduled to present that evidence at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Philadelphia, on Tuesday, October 24, 2006.

"Chicxulub is one of thousands of impact craters on Earth's surface and in its subsurface," said H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research. "The evidence found by Keller and colleagues suggests that there is more to learn about what caused the major extinction event millions of years ago, and the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous."

Marine sediments drilled from the Chicxulub crater itself, as well as from a site in Texas along the Brazos River and from outcrops in northeastern Mexico, reveal that Chicxulub hit Earth 300,000 years before the mass extinction. Microscopic marine animals were left virtually unscathed, said Keller.

"In all these localities we can analyze their microfossils in the sediments directly above and below the Chicxulub impact layer, and cannot find any significant biotic effect," said Keller. "We cannot attribute any specific extinctions to this impact."

The story that seems to be taking shape, according to Keller, is that Chicxulub, though violent, actually conspired with the prolonged and gigantic volcanic eruptions of the Deccan Flood Basalts in India, as well as with climate change, to nudge species towards the brink. They were then pushed over with a second large meteor impact.

The Deccan volcanism released vast amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over a period of more than a million years leading up to the mass extinction. By the time Chicxulub struck, the oceans were already 3-4 degrees warmer, even at the bottom, Keller said.

"On land it must have been 7-8 degrees warmer," she said. "This greenhouse warming is well-documented. The temperature rise was rapid over about 20,000 years, and it stayed warm for about 100,000 years, then cooled back to normal well before the mass extinction."

Where's the crater? "I wish I knew," said Keller.

Source: NSF

Explore further: Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Blow for Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Theory

Apr 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The enduringly popular theory that the Chicxulub crater holds the clue to the demise of the dinosaurs, along with some 65 percent of all species 65 million years ago, is challenged in a paper ...

Dinosaur Deaths Outsourced to India?

Oct 29, 2007

A series of monumental volcanic eruptions in India may have killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, not a meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico. The eruptions, which created the gigantic Deccan Traps lava ...

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

Apr 18, 2014

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...