Written By Damien Knight
When I was young, I had watched Walt Disney’s Fantasia. In the film, there was a scene where all the dinosaurs died out in a dramatic drought. This scene fascinated me. Was this how the dinosaurs died? Did the climate change so drastically that a massive drought followed killing them all off? As a child, I was willing to believe anything I was told. As an adult, I know now to question things in a more scientific manner. We must examine every theory and test every hypothesis until we are certain of the facts.
Paleontologists have been studying the “Great Extinction” since 1980. Several hypotheses abound, climate change, geological changes, and asteroids were all blamed for the mass extinction of dinosaurs. More outrageous hypothesis, such as mass sickness or dying of allergies were also presented. Were any of these the reason why dinosaurs went extinct?
Today paleontologists and other scientists have two very plausible theories. One is gradual extinction due to natural forces such as volcanic eruptions and plate tectonics. The second theory is a mass catastrophe theory. This theory states that a large cosmic object crashed into earth 65 million years ago and tossed up enough dust to black out the sun and kill off the dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs lived over 65 million years ago. They were massive creatures and had been ruling the earth for thousands of years. In the blink of the geological eye they vanished. So why did they vanish? What would be so drastic that it could end so many species in such a short time? I propose that the cause was a combination of catastrophe with natural climate change and volcanism. Geologists and paleontologists noted a layer of iridium at the K-T boundary. Iridium is a substance rare on earth but not in asteroids or in the earth’s mantle.
65 million years ago there were a series of large volcanic eruptions in India that spewed mass amounts of lava and volcanic ash. Scientists claim that these volcanic eruptions were so massive that the sulfur clouds blacked out the sun and stopped photosynthesis for an entire year. This would have caused massive climate change making the air much colder. Any creatures living close to the volcanoes would have died instantly.
What about the dinosaurs who are further out and the other life forms. Without plant life, the plant eating dinosaurs would die off and the meat eaters would have to scavenge off the dead plant eaters. The dwindling food source would therefore lead to extinction of the meat eating or at least force them to become smaller. The marine life would dwindle down. The cooling seas would recede and the plant life in it would die off. The death of plant life would then kill off a lot of sea life that relies on it for food.
Even though a massive volcano could cause such a catastrophe it was not the only event that could. At least two asteroids hit around the same time period. One asteroid was discovered in the Yucatan Peninsula and the other near the Ukraine. This means that there may have been an asteroid shower.
Most people know of the original asteroid theory. A large space rock hit in the Yucatan Peninsula causing a massive dust cloud and killed off the dinosaurs along with a large amount of marine life. This theory has become a very popular theory for Hollywood to recreate with humans as the next target. Even so the dust cloud of this one asteroid would not have been enough to surround the earth and cause mass extinction.
According to a recent article titled No, Seriously What Killed the Dinosaurs? there may have been a third even larger crater near the Deccan Traps. If this were to be another asteroid impact at the same time as the others it would be the largest known asteroid crater on earth. Such an impact could cause massive earthquakes triggering the volcanic eruptions in the area. Both the eruptions and the series of now not just one but three cosmic impacts would have darkened the skies.
What happened that fateful day the asteroids hit? The asteroids would have barrelled toward earth entering its gravitational pull. Gravity would then cause the rocks to speed up lighting on fire and super heating the air turning it to plasma. Each asteroid would most likely glow as bright if not brighter than our sun. Any dinosaur near the impact would be disintegrated immediately. Once the asteroids made impact, the shock waves would be like a massive bomb. The debris and air pressure would shoot out from the center killing everything that did not already die from the super-heated air.
The asteroids would have set off the killer chain reaction after this. Massive earthquakes would occur as the shock waves go through the continental plates. The Deccan Trap volcanoes would erupt adding sulfuric clouds and ash to the debris already spreading over the entire earth. The eruptions would add even more earthquakes. There would have been forest fires and the air would fill with poisonous gasses. The first day would kill off many dinosaurs. Their fate would be sealed.
The years to come would kill off surviving dinosaurs. The air would be dark with ash, sulfur, and iridium debris from asteroids, dark enough to stop photosynthesis for an entire year. Acid rain would pour down on the planet. The baby dinosaurs that hatch would now starve and die. The water would be undrinkable for the dinosaurs and unliveable for large marine life.
How did the dinosaurs die? A cosmic catastrophe triggered a chain of geological and climatic events. These caused the cooling temperatures and receding oceans. These massive creatures that roamed the earth for thousands of years could not adapt fast enough to withstand these rapid changes. In the wake of massive extinction rose a new hope for life on earth. The rise of mammals.
Braun, David “Researchers Rethink Dinosaur Die Off Scenerio.” Daily Nature and Science News and Headlines/National Geographic News. 26 Feb. 2002. Web 02 Nov. 2010
“Dinosaur Extinction.” Science and Space Facts, Science and Space, Human Body, Health, Earth,Human Disease – National Geographic. Web. 02 Nov. 2010
Reilly, Michael. “No, Seriously, What Killed the Dinosaurs?: Discovery News.” Discovery News: Earth, Space, Tech, Animals, Dinosaurs, History. 28 Aug. 2010. Web 05 Nov. 2010
< http://news.discovery.com/earth/no-seriously-what-killed-the-dinosaurs.html >.
Smith, Dave. What killed The Dinosaurs. Dinobuzz, 28 Oct. 1995. Web 2 Nov. 2010
< http://www.ucmp.berkely.edu/diapsids/extincttheory.html >.