Impact ejecta at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, Morgan F. Schaller, Megan K. Fung, James D. Wright, Miriam E. Katz and Dennis V. Kent, Science, 354, 6309, 225-229 (14 October 2016), DOI:10.1126/science.aaf5466
Extraterrestrial impacts have left a substantial imprint on the climate and evolutionary history of Earth. A rapid carbon cycle perturbation and global warming event about 56 million years ago at the Paleocene-Eocene (P-E) boundary (the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum) was accompanied by rapid expansions of mammals and terrestrial plants and extinctions of deep-sea benthic organisms. Here, we report the discovery of silicate glass spherules in a discrete stratigraphic layer from three marine P-E boundary sections on the Atlantic margin. Distinct characteristics identify the spherules as microtektites and microkrystites, indicating that an extraterrestrial impact occurred during the carbon isotope excursion at the P-E boundary.
My interests in these kinds of subjects started slowly and developed over a long period of time. Originally it started back in 1989, on the day of the Loma Prieta earthquake that occurred on October 17th, 1989. I was actually working in a foramanifera laboratory at the Caribbean Marine Research Center CMRC at Lee Stocking Island in the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas at that time.
I wasn’t doing that kind of research, but I was interested in it since it was occurring all around me, and I suddenly found myself surrounded by geologists and biologists, subjects which I knew little or nothing about. And we had a tide gauge. And I had an island. So by then I was totally keyed into the tides.
So on that day I was desperately trying to get back to the states, trying to negotiate a ride on Mr. and Mrs. Perry’s private plane, with them, the owners of the island on which the research center was located, who did not particularly like me and viewed everything I did with suspicion. That’s another story entirely. I was bumped off the flight the previous week, and their private flight was my only option. So I went home to cool my jets, and on my way back down to the cay to catch that ride, as I was walking down the hill to the dock, I ran into the highest tide I have ever EVER witnessed in all the years I had spent in the Bahamas. It was truly an awesome tide, it covered up jagged coral rocks that had never been covered before, rocks that can rip the bottom out of your boat if you don’t see them. It was a totally off the scale high tide. It was the only subject of discussion when I arrived at the lab, and that tide alone prompted a complete rebuild of the tide gauge column, and eventually a shift to digital tide gauges. Eventually later that day I did get my ride back to West Palm Beach, with Mr. and Mrs. Perry, a very quiet and silent ride indeed, and as I finally arrived in Tampa on my connection, in the airport lobby I was presented with a major earthquake on all of the television screens. Ding! Tides cause earthquakes. I was hooked.
So once the internet arrived on the scene I was ready. It was something that I was watching constantly. So over Christmas vacation 2004 when I was watching the USGS earthquake map and when there I saw an 8.1 major earthquake in the deep southern ocean near the Macquarie Islands, I noticed. I thought to myself that something is on the move down there, and if there is one, there should be another, and so for the next few days I was watching that map like a hawk, and when it happened, I saw it. I was on it. The Boxing Day Indonesian earthquake and tsunami.
Massive Quake Strikes Remote Macquarie Island In Antarctica
I was posting on sci.earthquake at the time, and I wish now I had said something earlier, not just after the fact. I felt that way when I was sitting in Grandma’s chair watching the Columbia space shuttle launch on its final mission, when I saw something fall off the rocket and shred into the exhaust plumes of the solid rocket boosters. I was so concerned about it that I ran out into the back yard thinking I would catch the explosion, but there it was, cleanly accelerating over the horizon and into space. So I thought all is well, when in fact all was not well, and I regret to this day not relaying my observations and thoughts to the space cadet community on the usenet.
Between those two incidents and all of my experiences in search and rescue in the Bahamas – I decided right then and there, on Boxing Day in 2004, if I see something then I am reporting it.
At that point I was seeing a lot of things I did not like. It was in the middle of the Bush years. So when I noticed that Ellen Thomas was coming to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg to speak on global warming and the PETM on February 16th, 2005, I went down there to see her, and after the talk, I spoke with her. At that time comet impacts were considered fringe, but she gave me some pointers and again, I was hooked. Ellen Prager was my boss for a year in 1995 and so I was already a catastrophist. And of course, catastrophe was a daily occurrence at the research lab and in the islands. Crisis management and science and problem solving was my way of life.
So when the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis arrived on the scene, of course I was interested, and when on Darwin’s Day in 2009, when I saw something in the Black Sturgeon River Basin south of Lake Nipigon in Ontario, Canada, of course, I reported it. On Valentines Day. February 14, 2009. So even when I am wrong, and I am mostly wrong nowadays, I don’t regret reporting what I see. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Until I see that I am wrong. I am a scientist.
This is my microphone.
Update: The takeaway is that big impacts can cause earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes.
Supervolcanoes and volcanism is well known to release large amounts of carbon dioxide.
Positive feedbacks in these phenomena could well include large methane releases.
Instantaneous effects of an impact are followed by long term effects.
Therefore I consider this problem now to be solved.
Update 2: Wow, I just realized this is a five way super catastrophe.
Cosmic impact, massive earthquake swarm, giant tsunami, super volcanism and then when the coal beds burned up in that mess, global warming. Life is great, no? I’m a catastrophist!