Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Possibly Caused Giant Lava Flows

Wednesday, 07 February 2018 - 6:40PM
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 - 6:40PM
Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Possibly Caused Giant Lava Flows
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National Park Service
Approximately sixty million years ago, a mass extinction event killed off the majority of the dinosaurs and their peers. Those that weren't able to adapt to a new, harsher world died off completely, while only a quarter of all life on Earth was able to continue on to evolve into the flora and fauna we know today.

The catastrophic event was likely triggered by an enormous asteroid which crashed down in the Yucatan Peninsula in South America, sending shockwaves across the entire planet, blackening the sky with ash and soot, and making it impossible for the majority of life forms to continue on. There are, though, some scientists who reject the asteroid theory, instead pointing to volcanic eruptions that were occurring at the time in India - these too could have provided the soot and ash necessary to darken the sky.

A new study published in Scientific Advances makes a bold claim: both theories are correct. According to new research, there's a good chance that the giant asteroid that crashed on Earth split the ground, causing huge waves of lava to burst forth all across the planet.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers studied the sea bed, looking at a cross-section of the ground in order to measure volcanic activity over time. According to the results, there was a spike in lava flows around the time of the asteroid collision, far away from the volcanoes of India that were already spewing some volcanic material.

This new paper therefore claims that it's possible that the asteroid, as well as bringing a bunch of other destructive effects to the planet, also kicked off a period of intense volcanic activity, speeding up the Indian volcanoes, as well as causing lava to pour out of the Earth's crust in various places across the oceans.

One potential fly in this ointment is the lack of volcanic residue at the purported asteroid crash site. By rights, if the giant space rock hit the Earth hard enough to crack bedrock, there should be pronounced volcanic activity around this area, but this isn't present.

There's an issue of causation versus correlation here. We know that there was a spike in volcanic activity around the time that the asteroid landed on Earth, but we can't yet definitively prove that this burst of lava was necessarily the result of the collision itself.

Either way, the more research is undertaken to try and examine the mass extinction event that ended the Cretaceous period of Earth's history, the clearer it becomes that the planet really was suffering from a perfect storm of different environmental disasters.

For years, scientists have been fascinated with this event, attempting to figure out what exactly caused it, what effects occurred, and, rather importantly, how we might be able to spot the warning signs should another similar event occur. Experts speculate that it would take a very, very specific set of circumstances for the dinosaurs to die off in the way they did, so we're probably not in danger of getting splatted by asteroids any time in the near future.

That said, it's worth remembering that dinosaurs existed for millions of years before going extinct, where we've only managed a few hundred thousand years, and are already seconds away from doomsday. The greatest threat to humanity is our own inability to manage species-wide self-preservation.

At least the dinosaurs never had to worry about the threat of climate change, nuclear war, or robot uprisings.
Science News