Study | Asteroid dust caused the 15-year winter that wiped out the dinosaurs

(Paris) We knew that an asteroid impacting the coast of what is now Mexico 66 million years ago led to the extinction of three-quarters of all living things, including dinosaurs.

But the exact nature of the phenomenon caused by the Chicxulub asteroid remained controversial. The latest theories were that sulfur released by the impact or soot released by huge fires blocked sunlight and plunged the world into a long winter.

A study published Monday revived an earlier theory: The dust kicked up by the asteroid darkened the sky for a long time.

Fine silica dust, pulverized sand, would have remained in the atmosphere for fifteen years. According to the study published in, the lack of light would have led to a drop in average temperatures of up to 15 degrees Celsius Natural geosciences.

In the 1980s, father and son Luis and Walter Alvarez suspected that dinosaurs had become extinct after an asteroid impact changed the climate by blanketing the Earth in dust.

A theory that was doubted until the huge crater caused by Chicxulub was discovered ten years later in what is now Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

The theory that sulfur, not dust, could have changed the climate took hold because it was believed that this dust was not the right size “to stay in the atmosphere,” he told AFP, study co-author Ozgur Karatekin, researcher at the Royal Observatory of Belgium.

An international team was able to identify dust particles from the asteroid impact found in the Tanis fossil site in North Dakota, USA. They measure between 0.8 and 8 micrometers.

By inputting their data into climate models similar to those used today, the researchers found that this dust had played a much larger role than previously thought.

The simulations showed that three quarters of the total amount of material thrown into the atmosphere was dust, 24% was sulfur and only 1% was soot.

The dust particles “completely prevented” photosynthesis in plants for at least a year, leading to a “catastrophic collapse” of life, according to Karatekin.

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