Very small diamonds, that is: Younger Dryas climate event solved via nanodiamonds – it was a planetary impact event
Most of North America’s megafauna — mastodons, short-faced bears, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed cats and American camels and horses — disappeared close to 13,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene period. The cause of this massive extinction has long been debated by scientists who, until recently, could only speculate as to why.
A group of scientists, including UC Santa Barbara’s James Kennett, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science, posited that a comet collision with Earth played a major role in the extinction. Their hypothesis suggests that a cosmic-impact event precipitated the Younger Dryas period of global cooling close to 12,800 years ago. This cosmic impact caused abrupt environmental stress and degradation that contributed to the extinction of most large animal species then inhabiting the Americas. According to Kennett, the catastrophic impact and the subsequent climate change also led to the disappearance of the prehistoric Clovis culture, known for its big game hunting, and to human population decline.
|Raquel Welch models Clovis spear
In a new study published this week in the Journal of Geology, Kennett and an international group of scientists have focused on the character and distribution of nanodiamonds, one type of material produced during such an extraterrestrial collision. The researchers found an abundance of these tiny diamonds distributed over 50 million square kilometers across the Northern Hemisphere at the Younger Dryas boundary (YDB). This thin, carbon-rich layer is often visible as a thin black line a few meters below the surface.No impact site has been identified for the event, and one theory is that it hit the still rather large North American ice field, and gouged a crate in the ice which disappeared upon melting.
The team found that the YDB layer also contained larger than normal amounts of cosmic impact spherules, high-temperature melt-glass, grapelike soot clusters, charcoal, carbon spherules, osmium, platinum and other materials. But in this paper the researchers focused their multi-analytical approach exclusively on nanodiamonds, which were found in several forms, including cubic (the form of diamonds used in jewelry) and hexagonal crystals.Is the debate over? Probably not. While I think the evidence that something extraterrestrial happened at around the Younger Dryas Boundary, there is nothing yet that conclusively links whatever happened to the climate changes that occurred after and lasted a thousand years.
“Different types of diamonds are found in the YDB assemblages because they are produced as a result of large variations in temperature, pressure and oxygen levels associated with the chaos of an impact,” Kennett explained. “These are exotic conditions that came together to produce the diamonds from terrestrial carbon; the diamonds did not arrive with the incoming meteorite or comet.”
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