Sometimes it feels like the sky is falling and the oceans are boiling, but when you start to get stressed out, remember the dinosaurs had it worse than you do: A new paper in Science Advances adds another apocalypse scenario to the nightmare that unfolded at the end of the Cretaceous period.
About 66 million years ago, the infamous Chicxulub asteroid struck off what’s now the coast of Mexico, vaporizing huge amounts of plant life and causing a global winter—wave goodbye to your favorite T. rex. More bad news: The giant magma tanks known as the Deccan Traps, one of the largest volcanic regions on Earth located in what's now India, erupted.
Now the new paper suggests that when the asteroid struck, the sheer force of the impact may have also triggered a massive surge in volcanic activity at the bottom of the ocean. (Volcanic activity, like the asteroid strike itself, can cause temperatures to plummet.) This also makes the researchers think the asteroid strike might have made the Deccan Traps eruptions—which likely began before the asteroid—more severe.
Their hypothesis is pinned on analyzing tiny changes in gravity along the surface of the seafloor. Those can mark places where a spike in volcanic activity has produced a dense lump of rock. The team behind the new paper looked at million-year-wide slices of the seafloor emanating out from the mid-ocean ridges, where different chunks of the Earth's crust move apart and new rock is created.
When they got to about 66 slices out from the mid-ocean ridges—around when the Chicxulub asteroid hit—the researchers found a spike in gravity anomalies, reflecting a spree of ocean-floor creation.
But there's one piece of the puzzle that was missing—the largest anomalies were found in seafloor that would have been on the opposite side of the globe, between southern Africa and Australia.
“Unfortunately, around the Chicxulub crater, the volcanic activity is practically absent except the impact melt rock in the target rock of the crater basin,” Sankar Chatterjee, an earth scientist at Texas Tech University not involved in the research, told Gizmodo. “One should expect massive volcanism in the Gulf of Mexico, if Chicxulub was the culprit for far away volcanism.”