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, 102 (E9), 21645-64

Energy, Volatile Production, and Climatic Effects of the Chicxulub Cretaceous/Tertiary Impact

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Energy, Volatile Production, and Climatic Effects of the Chicxulub Cretaceous/Tertiary Impact

K O Pope et al. J Geophys Res.


A comprehensive analysis of volatiles in the Chicxulub impact strongly supports the hypothesis that impact-generated sulfate aerosols caused over a decade of global cooling, acid rain, and disruption of ocean circulation, which contributed to the mass extinction at the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundary. The crater size, meteoritic content of the K/T boundary clay, and impact models indicate that the Chicxulub crater was formed by a short period comet or an asteroid impact that released 0.7-3.4 x 10(31) ergs of energy. Impact models and experiments combined with estimates of volatiles in the projectile and target rocks predict that over 200 gigatons (Gt) each of SO2 and water vapor, and over 500 Gt of CO2, were globally distributed in the stratosphere by the impact. Additional volatiles may have been produced on a global or regional scale that formed sulfate aerosols rapidly in cooler parts of the vapor plume, causing an early, intense pulse of sulfuric acid rain. Estimates of the conversion rate of stratospheric SO2 and water vapor to sulfate aerosol, based on volcanic production of sulfate aerosols, coupled with calculations of diffusion, coagulation, and sedimentation, demonstrate that the 200 Gt stratospheric SO2 and water vapor reservoir would produce sulfate aerosols for 12 years. These sulfate aerosols caused a second pulse of acid rain that was global. Radiative transfer modeling of the aerosol clouds demonstrates (1) that if the initial rapid pulse of sulfate aerosols was global, photosynthesis may have been shut down for 6 months and (2) that for the second prolonged aerosol cloud, solar transmission dropped 80% by the end of first year and remained 50% below normal for 9 years. As a result, global average surface temperatures probably dropped between 5 degrees and 31 degrees K, suggesting that global near-freezing conditions may have been reached. Impact-generated CO2 caused less than 1 degree K greenhouse warming and therefore was insignificant compare to the sulfate cooling. The magnitude of sulfate cooling depends largely upon the rate of ocean mixing as surface waters cool, sink, and are replaced by upwelling of deep ocean water. This upwelling apparently drastically altered ocean stratification and circulation, which may explain the global collapse of the delta 13C gradient between surface and deep ocean waters at the K/T boundary.

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