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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Dust might have snuffed out the dinosaurs

An artist’s reconstruction of a Dakotaraptor steini, among the last nonavian dinosaurs, in North Dakota after the Chicxulub impact 66 million years ago.

By Miriam Fauzia

A study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience has uncovered a cause of this cold snap: dust. The study’s authors say that micrometer-size fine silicate dust lingered as long as 15 years in the atmosphere after the impact and contributed to the global cooling. Additionally, they say, all photosynthetic activity on Earth may have ceased completely within two weeks following the Chicxulub impact largely because of fine dust.

Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the research, said studies like this one aided understanding of the time period after the asteroid’s impact.

“They help us empathize with T. rex, triceratops and the other dinosaurs that woke up in the morning on the top of the food chain but by the end of the day were facing a world in chaos,” he said.

During fieldwork in 2017, Pim Kaskes, a geologist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium and an author of the new research, collected some fine-grained samples from a geological formation in North Dakota known as Tanis, which yielded a treasure trove of fossils. While Tanis is 2,000 miles from the Chicxulub impact, seismic waves created a deposit of minerals known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. It is about four feet thick and corresponds to the event.

He shared the samples with Cem Berk Senel, a paleoclimate modeling researcher at the Royal Observatory of Belgium who was then a graduate student at Université Libre de Bruxelles.

“One of the key questions we wondered was what was the primary governor of the Chicxulub mass extinction event because, in the literature, there have been diverse hypotheses addressing this phenomenon,” Senel said.

The role of dust has often been overlooked. Instead, scientists

Incorporating fine-dust measurements from more sites will be needed to make more global conclusions. Senel and Kaskes say the computer simulation does show a slight difference in climatic activity between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, but they acknowledge that more research needs to be done.

“That’s something we would like to figure out, to see if there are differences around the globe, maybe some regions that were less affected by the meteorite’s impact and why some groups survived and others didn’t,” Kaskes said. “I think this is just a starting point for some cool research and to find fossil evidence of this global response.”

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