This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

23 January 2008

New modeling of Chicxulub asteroid impact reveals larger environmental impact than previously thought

Selections from the article...

The most detailed three-dimensional seismic images yet of the Chicxulub crater, a mostly submerged and buried impact crater on the Mexico coast, may modify a theory explaining the extinction of 70 percent of life on Earth 65 million years ago.

The Chicxulub crater was formed when an asteroid struck on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Most scientists agree the impact played a major role in the "KT Extinction Event" that caused the extinction of most life on Earth, including the dinosaurs.

According to Sean Gulick, a research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences and principal investigator for the project, the new images reveal the asteroid landed in deeper water than previously assumed and therefore released about 6.5 times more water vapor into the atmosphere.

The impact site also contained sulfur-rich sediments called evaporites, which would have reacted with water vapor to produce sulfate aerosols. According to Gulick, an increase in the atmospheric concentration of the compounds could have made the impact deadlier in two ways: by altering climate (sulfate aerosols in the upper atmosphere can have a cooling effect) and by generating acid rain (water vapor can help to flush the lower atmosphere of sulfate aerosols, causing acid rain). Earlier studies had suggested both effects might result from the impact, but to a lesser degree.

"The greater amount of water vapor and consequent potential increase in sulfate aerosols needs to be taken into account for models of extinction mechanisms," says Gulick.

"Seismic Images Show Dinosaur-Killing Meteor Made Bigger Splash"
January 23, 2008
Press Release
University of Texas at Austin

Link: Press Release


"Importance of pre-impact crustal structure for the asymmetry of the Chicxulub impact crater"
Nature Geoscience
Published online: 13 January 2008
Sean P. S. Gulick, el al.

Impact craters are observed on the surfaces of all rocky planets and satellites in our Solar System1; some impacts on Earth, such as the Cretaceous/Tertiary one that formed the Chicxulub impact crater have been implicated in mass extinctions. The direction and angle of the impact—or its trajectory—is an important determinant of the severity of the consequent environmental damage, both in the downrange direction (direction bolide travels) and in the amount of material that enters the plume of material vaporized on impact. The trajectory of the Chicxulub impact has previously been inferred largely from asymmetries in the gravity anomalies over the crater. Here, we use seismic data to image the Chicxulub crater in three dimensions and demonstrate that the strong asymmetry of its subsurface correlates with significant pre-existing undulations on the end-Cretaceous continental shelf that was the site of this impact. These results suggest that for rocky planets, geological and geomorphological heterogeneities at the target site may play an important role in determining impact crater structure, in addition to impact trajectories. In those cases where heterogeneous targets are inferred, deciphering impact trajectories from final crater geometries alone may be difficult and require further data such as the distribution of ejecta.

Link: Abstract from Nature Geoscience

Link: Full PDF of Paper

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