The Dinosaur Extinction: Where Marine Lava Flowed

On the 8th of February research was published in the Journal of Science Advances about the K-T event (Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event which killed the Dinosaurs). The research presented evidence for the global magmatism (activation of Magma around the world) as a result of the Chicxulub Meteorite impact. This article will examine this study and what it means for Paleontology.

The past couple of weeks have been a rather busy one for Paleontology. On the 6th of February a controversial theory was published in the journal of Nature Ecology & Evolution about Dinosaurs ultimately being too successful for their own good, which supposedly contributed to their extinction. Then on the 7th of February the Guardian published an article from Paleontologist David Hone about the discussion of Dinosaur family trees, groupings and arrangement. Finally on the 8th of February the Media and Scientific community reported about a new Study in the Journal of Science Advances that the Meteorite that hit the Earth 66 million years ago which killed the Dinosaurs triggered mass volcanic and undersea volcanic eruptions.

Dino Asteroid
Artist impression of the meteor that struck the Yucatán Peninsula 66 million years ago. Image credit: Mark Garlick, Science Photo Library/Alamy, 2017 via National Geographic.

All of these pieces of research are important but as a former Geography degree student there was always going to be one story here that I knew I would focus on first and that is the research about the Meteorites impact on the Earth causing volcanic undersea eruptions. Learning about Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis was always one topic of Physical Geography I always found interesting and as an aspiring Paleontologist understanding how the Extinction of the Dinosaurs came to be is a really important subject. The meteor that crashed into Earth 66 million years ago was six miles wide and created the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico (Sharma, 2018).

The prevailing theory about this impact and the Extinction of the Dinosaurs is that after it hit the superheated cloud of rock it generated would have vaporised anything nearby. The resulting break-up of the Meteor would have led to hot rock being thrown into the sky starting wildfires. As well as this Huge Mega Tsunamis would have been triggered along with Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions which would have devastated on a global scale. The resulting Climate Changes from this would have impacted the planet further with the atmosphere being so thick filled with dust and haze blocking out sunlight for months or even years, killing plants and impacting the remaining food chain. In 2016 core samples were taken from the peak ring of the Chicxulub crater where the rock of the Earth rebounded from the Meteor impact.

Professor Rick Aster (2016, p.2) said “A seismic event of this size would be the equivalent of all the world’s earthquakes for the past 160 years going off simultaneously”. The Chicxulub impact would have set into action a truly deadly set of events which makes this study into the Meteors impact on undersea Volcanism important, because it relates to the linkage between the events of the Meteor and the potential global volcanism that followed.

Pterosaurs and Meteor
Artist impression of the Meteorite impact that killed the Dinosaurs. In the image two Pterosaurs (Pteranodon) are seen flying overhead as the Meteor hits. Image Credit:
Mark Garlick/Science Source, 2017 via The New York Times.

What was the research?

The research of this fascinating study was picked up by a number of Science and News outlets from the 7th February onwards, these included websites like Phys.org, The Guardian, Telegraph,  Independent and the Los Angeles Times among many others.

The research undertaken by Joseph S. Byrnes and Leif Karlstrom looked at the changes in the strength of gravity above the seafloor, where there was increased volumes of magma being released for short time along the oceanic ridges as result of the Meteor impact (University of Oregon, 2018). This increase in magmatism caused by the Chicxulub meteor impact is important because it shows the linkages between the already active volcanoes and the devastation caused from the Meteor. The research undertaken looked at the geological data of the seafloor which was broken down into one million year old groupings, reconstructing a geological record back 100 million years ago. 66 million years ago evidence was found for a short pulse of marine magmatism (Bodkin, 2018).

Age of the sea floor
Study graph showing the age of the seafloor in Ma (million years) & percent of seafloor that is anomalous. Image credit: Byrnes & Karlstrom, 2018 via IFL Science!

The research found that the impact of the Meteor would have exacerbated volcanic eruptions that were already taking place at the time at the Deccan Traps (what is now central India). “The Deccan Traps were originally caused by one of the earth’s largest volcanic eruptions, producing a sea of basaltic lava believed to have covered over a million square kilometres” (Fleischfresser S. 2018, p. 1). The release of the magma is thought to have been caused by the seismic waves as a result of the meteorite impact. According to Volcanologist Professor Karlstrom (2018) there was a possibility that the mighty seismic waves produced from the impact released reservoirs of magma beneath the surface of the water, unleashing more volcanic eruptions then before.

So what does this study mean for Palaeontology?

This study showcases the likelihood that the volcanism that was already present during the Late Cretaceous was increased by the resulting impact of the Chicxulub meteorite impact. That the intensity of the impact would have contributed to a short lived pulse release of Marine magma, which would have been another contributing factor in the global catastrophe which wiped out the Dinosaurs and more than 75% of life on Earth during that time. Continued research into the KT event is a certainty given the significant importance it has in Dinosaur Extinction. I would therefore expect future Paleontological and Geological research into the KT boundary to show more evidence of a cause and effect relationship between the Meteorites impact and how the Earth reacted as a result.

Meteor impact after
An Artists impression of the Chicxulub crater soon after impact, 66 million years ago. Image credit: Detlev Van Ravenswaay/Science Source, 2016 via Science.

I hope you have found this article intriguing! As I stated at the start of this article the Physical Geography of Natural Events such as Tsunamis, Earthquakes and Volcanoes have always interested me. Learning about the impacts these events had after the Chicxulub impact is fascinating to me not only because they led to the demise of the Dinosaurs and the resulting Extinction of most life on Earth but because of the way this impacted the Earth, and how the Earth recovered from it.

The past couple of weeks have offered up some truly thought provoking Paleontological research, study and debates. Hopefully this will continue to increase over the coming weeks. I will be getting started on the next Paleontological article next week so keep an eye on Jurassic Finds for when that article drops!

 

References

 

Sharma S. (2018) 66 million-year old asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs also triggered deadly undersea volcanoes, [online] International Business Times, Available from: www.ibtimes.co.uk/66-million-year-old-asteroid-that-wiped-out-dinosaurs-also-triggered-deadly-undersea-volcanoes-1659710  [Accessed 12th February 2018]

 

Aster R. (2016, p. 1-4) Here’s what happened the Day the Dinosaurs Died, [online] National Geographic, Available from: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/what-happened-day-dinosaurs-died-chicxulub-drilling-asteroid-science/ [Accessed 12th February 2018]

 

University of Oregon (2018) Seafloor data point to global volcanism after Chicxulub meteor strike, [online] Phys.org, Available from: https://phys.org/news/2018-02-seafloor-global-volcanism-chicxulub-meteor.html [Accessed 12th February 2018]

 

Bodkin H. (2018) Global wave of underwater volcanoes helped kill off dinosaurs – new study, [online] The Telegraph, Available from: www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2018/02/07/global-wave-underwater-volcanoes-helped-kill-dinosaurs-new/ [Accessed 12th February 2018]

 

Fleischfresser S. (2018, p.1-2) Vast undersea eruption contributed to Cretaceous mass extinction, [online] Cosmos the Science of Everything, Available from: https://cosmosmagazine.com/geoscience/vast-undersea-eruption-contributed-to-cretaceous-mass-extinction [Accessed 12th February 2018]

 

Karlstrom L. (2018) That dinosaur-killing asteroid also triggered massive magma releases beneath the ocean, study finds, [online] Los Angeles Times, Available from: www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-magma-dinosaur-extinction-20180207-story.html [Accessed 12th February 2018]

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