By Neelabja Adkuloo
Dinosaurs have become extinct about 66 million years ago, but scientists are still arguing about the cause of their death. A new research has revealed that an asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs from the earth also altered the planet’s climate drastically. Evidence suggests that the impact of the asteroid was far and wide, resulting in a global winter that may have been behind the mass extinction event.
The Chicxulub asteroid impact
The Chicxulub asteroid, which was 12 km wide, hit the planet in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Geologists call this the Cretaceous-Paleogene event. The episode was so noticeable in the rock and fossil records that it signalled a change in geologic time.
A paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters argues that the Chicxulub asteroid released climate-changing chemicals when it hit the planet. The lead investigator, Professor Joanna Morgan, and her colleagues arrived at the conclusion after analysing the rock samples retrieved from the crater. Around 350 billion tons of sulphur dioxide and 450 billion tons of carbon dioxide broke out in the Earth’s atmosphere. These gases are said to have come from rocks and ocean water that vapourised during the impact. They caused the global temperature to plunge dangerously low resulting in the death of up to 80 percent of all plant and animal species.
Past and future developments
Past researchers had underestimated the massive amount of deadly poisons responsible for the killings. More than three times as much sulphur entered the air than previously assumed. The ash and dust formed a cloud that blocked out sunlight and dramatically reduced Earth’s temperature. The blue planet allegedly turned grey. The aftermath of the impact was that the ensuing period of sub-freezing temperatures persisted for about three years after the collision. The long-term environmental effects, like acid rains and forest fires, ultimately ended the reign of the dinosaurs.
This week, the UK and China-based scientists demonstrated that iridium—a rare metal brought to Earth by the dinosaur-killing asteroid—can be used to kill cancer in humans. It is found in abundance in the Chicxulub crater. The compound has no effect on non-cancerous healthy cells. The potential of iridium to provide new cancer drugs and as a compound in laser treatments is now being explored. Researchers still continue to debate the asteroid theory. An impressive amount of evidence proposes that a global wildfire ignited the extinction. Some geologists believe that another meteorite hit the Earth in the Indian Ocean. A growing faction of scientists is also of the view that the asteroid didn’t act alone. They blame a supervolcano for the catastrophic event.
Heeding to the warnings
For now, the case of the dinosaur extinction remains an enigma. Half a million years after their death, the earth was filled with mammals. To put things into perspective—if it wasn’t for the collision, humans wouldn’t have come into existence. In the current scenario, understanding what killed the dinosaurs can actually help humans fight climate change. Mass extinction, in the popular imagination, is the outcome of an asteroid attack. However, the reality remains that the large-scale event had a lot to do with climate change that was driven by carbon dioxide. One of the most alarming occurrences this year—the death of the Great Barrier Reef—serves as a warning sign. The destruction of life in what geologically is a quick period of time must alert the humans of an impending mass extinction that awaits them if they don’t start reducing their carbon footprints.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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