Here’s an intriguing idea: If things had happened just a little bit differently, dinosaurs might still be around today.
Scientists generally agree that dinosaurs went extinct when a six-mile asteroid collided with the Earth 66 million years ago. It hit the Gulf of Mexico and released gigantic reservoirs of crude oil and hydrocarbons. These combustibles were set ablaze, covered the Earth in soot, blocked out the sun and lowered the planet’s temperature. The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction wiped out 75 percent of life on Earth – including dinosaurs – and paved the way for us mammals to take over.
Now, two Japanese researchers argue that the infamous Chicxulub asteroid actually had only a one-in-ten chance of triggering that mass extinction. According to their study, only 13 percent of the Earth’s surface contained enough organic material to cause a disaster of this magnitude. If the rock had struck just about anywhere else, the dino-destroying event would not have happened.
“If the asteroid had hit a low–medium hydrocarbon area on Earth, mass extinction could not have occurred,” the study says, “and the Mesozoic biota could have persisted.”
The researchers base their conclusions on data modeling and multiple simulation experiments performed over the past 10 years. Their study of stratospheric aerosols used an Agilent gas chromatograph interfaced to a mass-selective detector to analyze sedimentary organic molecules.
The new theory has its skeptics. As one geophysicist tells the Washington Post, “The 13 percent number they’re quoting has a lot of assumptions based around it.”
Personally, I’m daydreaming about the parallel universe where I’m riding on a dinosaur right now…
For more information go to:
- K-T extinction (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
- Site of asteroid impact changed the history of life on Earth: the low probability of mass extinction
- Global climate change driven by soot at the K-Pg boundary as the cause of the mass extinction
- Dinosaurs would have survived if asteroid hit Earth elsewhere, scientists claim (Washington Post)
- Agilent Gas Chromatography
- Agilent Mass Spectrometry