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Crater linked to dinosaur extinction mapped

PTI | Last Updated: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - 19:10

Washington: Scientists have for the first time created a detailed map of the underwater crater that possibly led to the extinction of dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

About 65 million years back, an asteroid or comet crashed into a shallow sea near what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, researchers said.

The resulting firestorm and global dust cloud caused the extinction of many land plants and large animals, including most of the dinosaurs, they said.

Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have found evidence that remnants from this devastating impact are exposed along the Campeche Escarpment - an immense underwater cliff in the southern Gulf of Mexico.

The ancient meteorite impact created a huge crater, over 160 kilometres across. Unfortunately for geologists, this crater is almost invisible today, buried under hundreds of meters of debris and almost a kilometre of marine sediments.

In March this year, an international team of researchers led by Charlie Paull of MBARI created the first detailed map of the Campeche Escarpment.

The team used multi-beam sonars on the research vessel Falkor. The resulting maps have recently been incorporated in Google Maps and Google Earth for viewing by researchers and the general public.

Paull has long suspected that rocks associated with the impact might be exposed along the Campeche Escarpment, a 600-kilometre-long underwater cliff just northwest of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Nearly 4,000 meters tall, the Campeche Escarpment is one of the steepest and tallest underwater features on Earth. It is comparable to one wall of the Grand Canyon - except that it lies thousands of meters beneath the sea.

As in the walls of the Grand Canyon, sedimentary rock layers exposed on the face of the Campeche Escarpment provide a sequential record of the events that have occurred over millions of years.

Based on the new maps, Paull believes that rocks formed before, during, and after the impact are all exposed along different parts of this underwater cliff.

Paull hopes to one day perform geologic "fieldwork" and collect samples along the Campeche Escarpment.

The newly created maps of the Campeche Escarpment could open a new chapter in research about one of the largest extinction events in Earth`s history.

First Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - 19:10
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