The unlikely theory of the end of the late cretaceous

What is the most fashionable theory for what happened about 65 million years ago when “the late Cretaceous extinctions not only caused the demise of the dinosaurs but also accounted for the huge losses of the Foraminifers, the unicellular animals that serve as the basis of the sea food chain”, as Jozsef Palfy wrote in his book, The Extinct and Survivors?

That theory is, “the extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous period were triggered by a giant meteorite that had collided with the Earth. The supposed chain of events leading to mass extinction is as follows: A cloud of dust formed after the impact covering the whole Earth and causing darkness for months or even for years, the collapse of photosynthesis, drastic climatic change, and the breakdown of food chains.” (Quotation is from the same above mentioned book but we can read the same in many other sources, hear it in radio programs, see spectacular fires with dinosaurs howling and collapsing on television.)

Is this indeed what happened? The following will attempt to give an answer.

INTRODUCTION

There is a well known story: The scientist takes a flea. He puts it on the table and says, “Jump, you flea!”, and the flea jumps. He grabs it again and tears out its jumping legs and orders it to jump again. The flea does not jump this time. Therefore the scientist states that fleas hear with their jumping legs.

The same thing, namely drawing a wrong conclusion from a fact, occurred when scientists drew the inference between the so called iridium anomaly and the collision of a meteor (asteroid) with the Earth, thus explaining a mass extinction in the late Cretaceous.

(Iridium anomaly means that while this precious metal of the platinum group is rare in the earth’s crust, it can be a hundred times higher than the average value in the late Cretaceous layers. The solid materials found in the cosmos may also have higher iridium concentration than the crust.)

WHY IMPACT THEORY IS NOT AN ADEQUATE EXPLANATION?

Certainly there are other facts that we could bring up against this hypothesis but it is unnecessary to introduce all of them for the confutation. Let us take a look then at just some of those that would be sufficient for disproving this theory.

On page 132 of the above mentioned book we find “according to the estimates, 200 gigatons (billion tons) of vapor and the same amount of sulfur dioxide penetrated into the atmosphere.” And all this happened suddenly, resembling an explosion due to the impact. Sulfur dioxide kills virtually all living creatures. Therefore:

– In a vast land area all living things should have died, producing large amounts of fossils since decomposers of dead bodies would have perished as well.

– The high concentration levels of sulfur dioxide dispersed in the Earth’s atmosphere should have devastated all land creatures at higher evolutionary stages.

Then where is this huge amount of fossils?

(With seas the situation is different since here solution and dispersion take place much slower than in the atmosphere and binding processes may also reduce the sulfur dioxide concentration. Therefore the effect here is not so evident.)

The hypothetical location is the Mexican Gulf. The tsunami had not got beyond the gulf according to the referred book. Opposed to this, the Krakatau-explosion at the end of the 19th century – fortunately – causing only a fragment of such a large-scale disaster, caused a tsunami on the whole earth. A powerful tsunami would have devastated the eggs in the seashore sand, the living creatures and ovules on the coast and in the shallow water, etc.

Where are the huge amount of fossil records of such drifted and buried living things?

As a result of the heat effect, all the living creatures nearby disappeared (not only died but evaporated), further away, all living creatures died but remained in destroyed forms and partly charred, further still the devastation is selective. All this happened over such a vast area that (along with the effect of the sulfur dioxide) it should have produced fossils in large quantities.

Where are all these likewise particular fossils?

Within a very short period of time (minutes, hours, days, weeks based on the distance) a large amount of fossils should have been produced in high density.

Where are these?

The referred book wittily calls the effect ‘volley firing’. That is, the devastation would have depended neither on the age of the living thing nor on any other factor modifying the frequency of the death. In such a case, young individuals would have died in the same way as the old ones, the healthy ones, or the sick ones, etc.

Have they found such unusual ‘cemeteries’?

Iridium anomalies have been found all over the world but:

-Iridium has such a high melting and boiling points that as a result of the impact it could only partly become vapor. Due to its chemical characteristics in the atmosphere, it formed compounds neither before nor after the collision. Therefore its characteristics have not changed either.

-Due to its heavy weight it would have settled back very quickly onto the surface of the earth. So as the distance from the impact increases the iridium concentration quickly decreases. (This is only true above a minimal distance since the mechanical effect of the impact blows the pieces away.)

Do the iridium concentration values found show any corresponding dispersion? (The value in Gubbio, Italy showed a value ninety times higher than the average, while in Stevns Klint, Denmark, it was one hundred and sixty times higher. The difference between the distances between the two locations and the Mexican Gulf is relatively small, and Stevns Klint is the one further. More contradictory to the expectations is that in the vicinity of the presumed location of the impact scientists found a value as low as one hundred and thirty.)

They also had determined the direction of the impact and according to their estimates the strongest effect should have been northwestwards. Do the concentration values found correspond to this? (Anyhow, the previous paragraph is contrary to this as well.)

There are some facts that are contradictory to the worldwide biological extinctions. For example, although in North-America a change had taken place in the flora, it has not occurred either in the Antarctica or in New-Zealand.

If the explanation proposed to account for this theory was adequate in the case of the survival of crocodiles, distant relatives of dinosaurs (i.e. they are fresh-water animals), then why did birds (as opposed to all the flying reptiles) survive the catastrophe, among of which there were plenty of marine ones and ones dwelling far off the waters at these times? Or turtles (while the ancient marine reptiles all disappeared)? And why did arthropods survive once sulfur dioxide, being much heavier than the air, may have even been enriched nearby the surface of the earth? And what about the mammals living on the surface and in pits? Where were these intact or slightly damaged groups of animals during the huge fires and smoke?

The “evidence” proposed to account for the theory’s adequacy (just as I have already proven it above in certain cases) is only useful to confirm the fact of an impact and to demonstrate the location of it. But they do not sate whether the impact indeed was as powerful as previously assumed? Was it large enough to trigger such an effect?

Based on these findings we can substantiate that the impact theory does not correspond to the facts.

Although for its popularity and widespread use it is important to prove the inadequacy of this theory, what is there instead of it?

“A better explanation for the late Cretaceous events” attempts to give an answer to this.

Dr. Endre Simonyi