KT Mass Extinction: theories and controversies - extended version

TitleKT Mass Extinction: theories and controversies - extended version
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsKeller, G
Access Year2010
Access DateMay 5
PublisherGeoscientist Online

The Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) mass extinction is primarily known for the demise of the dinosaurs, the Chicxulub impact and the frequently rancorous 30 year-old controversy over the cause of this mass extinction. Since 1980 the impact hypothesis steadily gained support that culminated in 1990 with the discovery of the Chicxulub crater on Yucatan as the KT impact site and ‘smoking gun’ that proved this hypothesis. In a perverse twist of fate this discovery also began the decline of this hypothesis because for the first time it could be tested directly based on the impact crater and impact ejecta in sediments throughout the Caribbean, Central and North America. Two decades of multidisciplinary studies amassed a database with a sum total that overwhelmingly reveals the Chicxulub impact as predating the KT mass extinction in the impact crater cores, in sections throughout NE Mexico and in Brazos River sections of Texas.

Most mass extinctions over the past 500Ma occurred during times of major volcanic eruptions, some occurred at times of multiple impacts (Fig. 1) and all were accompanied by major changes in climate, sea level and oxygenation levels of the water column. This first order test favours some direct or indirect causal relationship between mass extinctions, volcanism, large impacts, climate and sea-level changes. But among the five major mass extinctions, only the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) boundary mass extinction can be shown to have a close correspondence between an iridium anomaly commonly assumed to represent an impact, an impact crater (Chicxulub), a large igneous province (Deccan Traps) and major climate and sea level changes.  PDF