02 August 2008

Big Bang In Antarctica: Killer Crater Found Under Ice

Big Bang In Antarctica: Killer Crater Found Under Ice
ScienceDaily (June 1, 2006) — Planetary scientists have found evidence of a meteor impact much larger and earlier than the one that killed the dinosaurs -- an impact that they believe caused the biggest mass extinction in Earth's history.
The 300-mile-wide crater lies hidden more than a mile beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. And the gravity measurements that reveal its existence suggest that it could date back about 250 million years -- the time of the Permian-Triassic extinction, when almost all animal life on Earth died out.
Its size and location -- in the Wilkes Land region of East Antarctica, south of Australia -- also suggest that it could have begun the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent by creating the tectonic rift that pushed Australia northward.
Scientists believe that the Permian-Triassic extinction paved the way for the dinosaurs to rise to prominence. The Wilkes Land crater is more than twice the size of the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan peninsula, which marks the impact that may have ultimately killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The Chicxulub meteor is thought to have been 6 miles wide, while the Wilkes Land meteor could have been up to 30 miles wide -- four or five times wider.
"This Wilkes Land impact is much bigger than the impact that killed the dinosaurs, and probably would have caused catastrophic damage at the time," said Ralph von Frese, a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University...The scientists used gravity fluctuations measured by NASA's GRACE satellites to peer beneath Antarctica's icy surface, and found a 200-mile-wide plug of mantle material -- a mass concentration, or "mascon" in geological parlance -- that had risen up into the Earth's crust.
Mascons are the planetary equivalent of a bump on the head. They form where large objects slam into a planet's surface. Upon impact, the denser mantle layer bounces up into the overlying crust, which holds it in place beneath the crater.
..."There are at least 20 impact craters this size or larger on the moon, so it is not surprising to find one here," he continued. "The active geology of the Earth likely scrubbed its surface clean of many more." ..."On the moon, you can look at craters, and the mascons are still there," von Frese said. "But on Earth, it's unusual to find mascons, because the planet is geologically active. The interior eventually recovers and the mascon goes away." He cited the very large and much older Vredefort crater in South Africa that must have once had a mascon, but no evidence of it can be seen now. ..Approximately 100 million years ago, Australia split from the ancient Gondwana supercontinent and began drifting north, pushed away by the expansion of a rift valley into the eastern Indian Ocean. The rift cuts directly through the crater, so the impact may have helped the rift to form, von Frese said.
But the more immediate effects of the impact would have devastated life on Earth.
"All the environmental changes that would have resulted from the impact would have created a highly caustic environment that was really hard to endure. So it makes sense that a lot of life went extinct at that time," he said.

1 comment:

Will Baird said...

If I may interject, an asteroid was not the cause of the PT Extinction. It was for the KT Extinction though. I've written some posts on the subject: Stop Dreaming, Addressing YAGUMETs, Permian Extinction, etc.

The ubersized crater is probably a mistake. There's not enough evidence for the event elsewhere. The Chicxulub impact left data all over the world (iridium, carbon deposits, spherules, etc) whereas the supposed Aussie impact didn't. At all. There's no evidence for any impact at the PT Boundary.

Besides as the premise is in Stop Dreaming, the KT Extinction was very, very different in its characteristics from the PT Extinction. This strongly supports very, very different mechanisms.

That's not to say that we are not well served by getting off this rock, btw.