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The Asteroid That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Sent Earth Into A Multi-Year Winter

Scientists have strong evidence that the Chicxulub asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. However, scientists are still finding out new information about this event that changed the course of Earth's great reptiles.


New evidence points to just how cold Earth became after the asteroid struck this planet. In fact, Earth likely experienced several years of on average below freezing temperatures.

But first, a bit of background information. The Chicxulub asteroid, which was 6-9 miles in diameter, struck Earth in what is today the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. This event 66 million years ago produced one of the most widespread extinction events in Earth's history. Geologists call this extinction event the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary (K-Pg boundary) as it was so noticeable in the rock and fossil record that the event demarcated a change in geologic time.

The extinction event killed 75% of all plant and animal species on Earth, most famously the non-avian dinosaurs.

While science is converging on Chicxulub asteroid being the trigger for this mass extinction event, scientists are still unsure exactly what Earth was like after the impact. We know that there was a large increase in dust from vaporized rocks, sulfur, and carbon dioxide. However, a recent study sought to better determine the magnitude of these and their interactions.

The study found that the amount of sulfur gas that was emitted was significantly underestimated. the Chicxulub asteroid triggered three times as much sulfur gas as previously thought, acting to significantly cool the Earth's surface. On top of that, they found the amount of carbon dioxide produced was significantly less than previously thought.

Let's provide some background on how these three factors impacted Earth's climate. First, the asteroid vaporized rock, sending dust into Earth's atmosphere. This acted to block out the Sun, causing both the Earth to cool and less sunlight for plants to photosynthesize. The release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, caused the Sun's heat to be trapped within the atmosphere, a similar scenario that we find ourselves in today. Lastly, sulfur gas also blocked out sunlight, causing the Earth to cool.

However, we see that there are two variables that cool the Earth and one that heats it up, so relative amount of each is important to know the overall climate of the Earth.

This study finds that the amount of sulfur gas was greatly underestimated and carbon dioxide greatly overestimated, meaning that the Earth was much colder than we previously thought. Estimates are that Earth's average surface air temperature dropped by 47 degrees Fahrenheit compared to today. Average surface air temperature globally is 59°F, meaning, the average global temperature after the Chicxulub asteroid was a chilly 12°F.

Estimates are that Earth's temperature was on average 12°F for at least three years after the impact. Think of the Game of Thrones multi-year winters, those existed here on Earth under extreme conditions. It's not surprising that 75% of Earth's species vanished in a few years. Thankfully, evolution is tremendously resourceful and plants and animals were once again able to flourish and populate the world.

Source: forbes

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