About 65 million years ago a rock from space hit the earth, devastating life and leaving a large crater on the surface of our planet.
No, it’s not who you are thinking of.
Boltysh Crater, a 15 miles wide formation in central Ukraine, may not be as famous as Chicxulub Crater under Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, which has been directly linked to the death of dinosaurs and many other species about 66 million years ago becomes. Nevertheless, Boltysh has long sparked discussions among scientists. Some have suggested that the crater, buried under more than 1,000 feet of sediment, could have formed before or after the Chicxulub event, making its role in this catastrophic period unclear.
Now, a team led by Annemarie Pickersgill, a research fellow at the University of Glasgow, estimates that Boltysh came into being around 650,000 years after the Chicxulub disaster. The Refined Age has implications for understanding how Boltysh influenced this turbulent time and may shed light on our own era of sudden climate change.
For a study published in Science Advances on Friday, researchers performed a technique known as argon-argon dating on rocks extracted from Boltysh. They also analyzed samples from a geological layer in Montana, the K-Pg boundary, which marks the dramatic transition caused by the Chicxulub impact. This comparative approach, along with advances in radiometric dating methods, resulted in a more refined sequence of events than previous studies.
“It is the first comparison of Boltysh samples directly with K-Pg limit samples,” said Dr. Pickersgill. “Because we analyzed everything under the same experimental conditions, we could neglect many of the uncertainties that we would get if, for example, one laboratory analyzed the K-Pg limit and another laboratory analyzed Boltysh.”
The New Age estimate places Boltysh about half a million years after the dinosaur-killing asteroid and contradicts the conclusions of a 2010 study in Geology that dated him to a few thousand years before Chicxulub. The researchers who authored this paper welcomed the new findings, and some became co-authors of Dr. Pickersgill’s study.
“The guys who did the previous work and who ended up being my co-workers are really good scientists,” she said. “When I received an answer that seemed to contradict your results, I was surprised and somewhat alarmed. But we checked everything again and the data is what it is. “
“It was a very nice scientific experience for me because they were so happy to adopt the new hypothesis and come up with new interpretations,” she added.
For years, scientists speculated that the Boltysh and Chicxulub impactors may have acted as a double blow that destroyed life at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The revised age suggests that the impact that caused the Ukrainian crater did not contribute to the apocalyptic extinction of the dinosaurs, although it may have affected their recovery from mass extinction.
Dr. Pickersgill is considering the possibility that Boltysh could be linked to a warming event known as lower C29N hyperthermal that occurred around the same time, although confirmation of that link would require more substantial evidence.
Sean Gulick, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, said the new age seems solid to Boltysh, but he doubts the effects are related to simultaneous hyperthermia or the pace of post-extinction recovery.
“This is an important study” that can help “unravel the question of whether or not minor events had a major impact on the climate,” said Dr. Gulick.
“I think that in this case would be proof that it wasn’t necessarily the case,” he added. “But we can only find that out if you get this really accurate data.”
Finding these connections not only opens a window into Earth’s ancient history, but it can also help us prepare for modern man-made climate change.
“A lot of my colleagues are paleoclimatologists – they study the effects of climate in the past – and the reason they are doing this is out of nerdiness, but also to understand what is happening to the climate,” said Dr. Pickersgill.
Ken Amor, a geochemist at Oxford University, also emphasized the importance of assessing the risk of impacting Boltysh scale impactors on Earth. Strikes at the Chicxulub Plain appear to be extremely rare “black swan events,” he said, but our planet is vulnerable to smaller objects like the one mile wide impactor that produced Boltysh.
“Something like that falling on London or Paris or anywhere else would wipe it out completely,” said Dr. Cupid. “The likelihood of this happening on human timescales is pretty slim, but that possibility always remains.”
He added that one way to build on the new study is to collect more samples from Boltysh and other impact craters to further refine their ages and the properties of the objects they created. Dr. Pickersgill will be happy to help.
“I always need more stones,” she said.