After Killing the Dinosaurs, Chicxulub Asteroid Crater Was One of the First Places to Harbor New Life

Friday, 01 June 2018 - 11:55AM
Friday, 01 June 2018 - 11:55AM
After Killing the Dinosaurs, Chicxulub Asteroid Crater Was One of the First Places to Harbor New Life
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Image credit: YouTube

When a six-mile-wide asteroid single-handedly kills 75 percent of life on Earth and leaves a crater over a hundred miles wide, you'd expect that the impact site to be one of the last places to start supporting life in the aftermath.


Well, it turns out that the opposite may be true. 


A new study reveals that the Chicxulub crater saw life return to it within just two to three years. After 30,000 years the area was thriving again, while other parts of the world took 10 times that amount of time just to recover from the fallout.


It's a fascinating discovery for scientists and one that may change the way we look at the Earth's ability to recover from catastrophic events.

The Chicxulub crater was created 65 million years ago when a huge asteroid hit the northwest coast of the Yucatan peninsula.


The crater is about half on land and half in the Caribbean sea, and was responsible for the formation of a beautiful series of sinkhole lakes, called the Ring of Cenotes.


Recently, scientists extracted a cylindrical core from part of the crater, similar to an ice core sample taken from Antarctic ice, and studied the layers of sediment to see where fossils of living creatures began appearing again.


To their surprise, they started seeing microfossils—a lot of microfossils—very soon.


According to postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Chris Lowery, the leader of the new study:


"We found life in the crater within a few years of impact, which is really fast, surprisingly fast. It shows that there's not a lot of predictability of recovery in general."

Just a couple years after wiping out the dinosaurs and killing millions of species of plants and animals, Ground Zero was already home to shrimp and worms, while evidence of blooming phytoplankton shows up a few thousand years later.


Crucially, the presence of plankton, in particular, let scientists extrapolate the existence of a bigger, more complex ecosystem. 


According to Lowery, "Microfossils let you get at this complete community picture of what's going on. You get a chunk of rock and there's thousands of microfossils there, so we can look at changes in the population with a really high degree of confidence...and we can use that as kind of a proxy for the larger scale organisms."

Even if most of the dinosaurs were wiped out by the asteroid, that old Jeff Goldblum quote proves true once again: "Life, uh...finds a way."

Science News