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Dino-killing asteroid plunged Earth into darkness for two years

Dino-killing asteroid plunged Earth into darkness for two years

A massive dinosaur-killing asteroid struck the Earth some 66 million years ago resulting into global wildfire. This wildfire gave rise to large amounts of soot, which lofted into the air, and would have plunged Earth into darkness for nearly two years.

This was revealed by a new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 21, 2017. The research details about how the climate could have dramatically changed following the impact of a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid.

The study was led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) with support from NASA and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Main Findings

  • The amount of soot released into air would have shut down photosynthesis, drastically cooled the planet, and contributed to the mass extinction that marked the end of the age of dinosaurs.
  • More than three-quarters of all species on Earth, including all non-avian dinosaurs, disappeared at the boundary of the Cretaceous-Paleogene periods, an event known as the K-Pg extinction.
  • Further, the evidence shows that the extinction occurred at the same time that a large asteroid hit Earth in what is now the Yucatán Peninsula.
  • The collision would have triggered earthquakes, tsunamis, and even volcanic eruptions.
  • The force of the impact would have launched vaporized rock high above Earth's surface, where it would have condensed into small particles known as spherules. As the spherules fell back to Earth, they would have been heated by friction to temperatures high enough to spark global fires and broil Earth's surface.

Methodology Used

For the new study, the team of scientists used the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model (CESM) to simulate the conditions that would have prevailed at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Going forward, this model can be used to stimulate effect of the soot on global climate going forward.

Further, they used the most recent estimates of the amount of fine soot found in the layer of rock left after the impact (15,000 million tons), as well as larger and smaller amounts, to quantify the climate's sensitivity to more or less extensive fires.

In the simulations, soot heated by the Sun was lofted higher and higher into the atmosphere, eventually forming a global barrier that blocked the vast majority of sunlight from reaching Earth's surface.

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