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Unformatted text preview: ups, suggest that episodes of increased extinction have recurred periodically, approximately every 26 million years since the midCretaceous period. The late Cretaceous extinction of the dinosaurs and am monoids was just one of the more drastic in a whole series of such recurrent extinction episodes. The possibility that mass extinctions may recur periodically has given rise to such hypotheses as that of a companion star with a longperiod orbit deflecting other bodies from their normal orbits, making some of them fall to Earth as meteors and causing widespread devastation upon impact.
Of the various hypotheses attempting to account for the late Cretaceous extinctions, the one that has attracted the most attention in recent years is the asteroidimpact hypothesis first suggested by Luis and Walter Alvarez. According to this hypothesis, Earth collided with an asteroid with an estimated diameter of 10 kilometers, or with several asteroids, the combined mass of which was comparable. The force of collision spewed large amounts of debris into the atmosphere, darkening the skies for several years before the finer particles settled. The reduced level of photosynthesis led to a massive decline in plant life of all kinds, and this caused massive starvation first of herbivores and subsequently of carnivores. The mass extinction would have occurred very suddenly under this hypothesis.
One interesting test of the Alvarez hypothesis is based on the presence of the rareearth element iridium (Ir). Earth' s crust contains very little of this element, but most asteroids contain a lot more. Debris thrown into the atmosphere by an asteroid collision would presumably contain large amounts of iridium, and atmospheric currents would carry this material all over the globe. A search of sedimentary deposits that span the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods shows that there is a dramatic increase in the abundance of iridium briefly and precisely at this boundary. This iridium anomaly offers strong support for the Alvarez hypothesis even though no 416
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asteroid itself has ever been recovered.
An asteroid of this size would be expected to leave an immense crater, even if the asteroid itself was disintegrated by the impact. The intense heat of the impact would produce heatshocked quartz in many types of rock. Also, large blocks thrown aside by the impact would form secondary craters surrounding the main crater. To date, several such secondary craters have been found along Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and heatshocked quartz has been found both in Mexico and in Haiti. A location called Chicxulub, along the Yucatan coast, has been suggested as the primary impact site. Paragraph 1: Cases in which many species become extinct within a geologically short interval of time are called mass extinctions. There was one such event at the end of the Cretaceous period...
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This note was uploaded on 09/17/2013 for the course LANGUAGE 13DL208 taught by Professor Wang during the Fall '13 term at East China Normal University.
- Fall '13