The University of Texas at Austin
  • Geophysicist in USA Today

    By Tara Chandler
    Published: Feb. 7, 2008
    Geophysicist

    Dinosaur doomsday was wetter than scientists have thought, according to new images of the crater where the space rock that likely killed the jumbo reptiles landed. Sixty-five million years ago the asteroid struck the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, and most scientists think this event played a large role in causing the extinction of 70 percent of life on Earth, including non-avian dinosaurs. Geophysicists now have created the most detailed 3-D seismic images yet of the mostly submerged Chicxulub impact crater. The data reveal that the asteroid landed in deeper water than previously assumed and therefore released about 6.5 times more water vapor into the atmosphere. The images also show the crater contained sulfur-rich sediments that would have reacted with the water vapor to create sulfate aerosols. These compounds in the atmosphere would have made the impact deadlier by cooling the climate and producing acid rain. “The greater amount of water vapor and consequent potential increase in sulfate aerosols needs to be taken into account for models of extinction mechanisms,” said Sean Gulick, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin who led the study. The asteroid impact alone was probably not responsible for the mass extinction, Gulick said. More likely, a combination of environmental changes over different time scales took their toll.

    USA Today
    Killer Space Rock Theory is All Wet
    (Jan. 24)

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