INCREDIBLE fossil find from the day the dinosaurs died

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Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Jan 31, 2009
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Fantastic article on the impact effects and, even better, a long and fascinating description of the incredible fossil bed find, a bed made on the day perhaps even just an hour after the impact! The problem with the impact-caused extinction theory before had been that dinosaur fossils had never been found within 3 meters of the worldwide K-T boundary layer. This bed had plenty of them.

Annals of the Former World
The Day the Dinosaurs Died
A young paleontologist may have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth.

If, on a certain evening about sixty-six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.

A few years ago, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory used what was then one of the world’s most powerful computers, the so-called Q Machine, to model the effects of the impact. The result was a slow-motion, second-by-second false-color video of the event. Within two minutes of slamming into Earth, the asteroid, which was at least six miles wide, had gouged a crater about eighteen miles deep and lofted twenty-five trillion metric tons of debris into the atmosphere. Picture the splash of a pebble falling into pond water, but on a planetary scale. When Earth’s crust rebounded, a peak higher than Mt. Everest briefly rose up. The energy released was more than that of a billion Hiroshima bombs, but the blast looked nothing like a nuclear explosion, with its signature mushroom cloud. Instead, the initial blowout formed a “rooster tail,” a gigantic jet of molten material, which exited the atmosphere, some of it fanning out over North America. Much of the material was several times hotter than the surface of the sun, and it set fire to everything within a thousand miles. In addition, an inverted cone of liquefied, superheated rock rose, spread outward as countless red-hot blobs of glass, called tektites, and blanketed the Western Hemisphere.

Some of the ejecta escaped Earth’s gravitational pull and went into irregular orbits around the sun. Over millions of years, bits of it found their way to other planets and moons in the solar system. Mars was eventually strewn with the debris—just as pieces of Mars, knocked aloft by ancient asteroid impacts, have been found on Earth. A 2013 study in the journal Astrobiology estimated that tens of thousands of pounds of impact rubble may have landed on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and on Europa and Callisto, which orbit Jupiter—three satellites that scientists believe may have promising habitats for life. Mathematical models indicate that at least some of this vagabond debris still harbored living microbes. The asteroid may have sown life throughout the solar system, even as it ravaged life on Earth.

The asteroid was vaporized on impact. Its substance, mingling with vaporized Earth rock, formed a fiery plume, which reached halfway to the moon before collapsing in a pillar of incandescent dust. Computer models suggest that the atmosphere within fifteen hundred miles of ground zero became red hot from the debris storm, triggering gigantic forest fires. As the Earth rotated, the airborne material converged at the opposite side of the planet, where it fell and set fire to the entire Indian subcontinent. Measurements of the layer of ash and soot that eventually coated the Earth indicate that fires consumed about seventy per cent of the world’s forests. Meanwhile, giant tsunamis resulting from the impact churned across the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up coastlines, sometimes peeling up hundreds of feet of rock, pushing debris inland and then sucking it back out into deep water, leaving jumbled deposits that oilmen sometimes encounter in the course of deep-sea drilling.

The damage had only begun.

[BIG snip]

The asteroid had likely struck in the fall, DePalma speculated. He had reached this conclusion by comparing the juvenile paddlefish and sturgeon he’d found with the species’ known growth rates and hatching seasons; he’d also found the seeds of conifers, figs, and certain flowers. “When we analyze the pollen and diatomaceous particles, that will narrow it down,” he said.

In the week that followed, fresh riches emerged: more feathers, leaves, seeds, and amber, along with several other fish, three to five feet long, and a dozen more craters with tektites. I have visited many paleontological sites, but I had never seen so many specimens found so quickly. Most digs are boring; days or weeks may pass with little found. DePalma seemed to make a noteworthy discovery about every half hour.


Then DePalma came to a faint jug-shaped outline in the wall of the wash. He examined it closely. It started as a tunnel at the top of the KT layer, went down, and then widened into a round cavity, filled with soil of a different color, which stopped at the hard sandstone of the undisturbed bedrock layer below. It looked as though a small animal had dug through the mud to create a hideout. “Is that a burrow?” I asked.
DePalma scraped the area smooth with his bayonet, then sprayed it. “You’re darn right it is,” he said. “And this isn’t the burrow of a small dinosaur. It’s a mammal burrow.” (Burrows have characteristic shapes, depending on the species that inhabit them.) He peered at it, his eyes inches from the rock, probing it with the tip of the bayonet. “Gosh, I think it’s still in there!”

He planned to remove the entire burrow intact, in a block, and run it through a CT scanner back home, to see what it contained. “Any Cretaceous mammal burrow is incredibly rare,” he said. “But this one is impossible—it’s dug right through the KT boundary.” Perhaps, he said, the mammal survived the impact and the flood, burrowed into the mud to escape the freezing darkness, then died. “It may have been born in the Cretaceous and died in the Paleocene,” he said. “And to think—sixtysix million years later, a stinky monkey [ape - W] is digging it up, trying to figure out what happened.” He added, “If it’s a new species, I’ll name it after you.”


Gradually, DePalma was piecing together a potential picture of the disaster. By the time the site flooded, the surrounding forest was already on fire, given the abundance of charcoal, charred wood, and amber he’d found at the site. The water arrived not as a curling wave but as a powerful, roiling rise, packed with disoriented fish and plant and animal debris, which, DePalma hypothesized, were laid down as the water slowed and receded.

Post part 2:

He stood up. “Now I’m going to show you something special,” he said, opening a wooden crate and removing an object that was covered in aluminum foil. He unwrapped a sixteen-inch fossil feather, and held it in his palms like a piece of Lalique glass. “When I found the first feather, I had about twenty seconds of disbelief,” he said. DePalma had studied under Larry Martin, a world authority on the Cretaceous predecessors of birds, and had been “exposed to a lot of fossil feathers. When I encountered this damn thing, I immediately understood the importance of it. And now look at this.”
From the lab table, he grabbed a fossil forearm belonging to Dakotaraptor, the dinosaur species he’d discovered in Hell Creek. He pointed to a series of regular bumps on the bone. “These are probably quill knobs,” he said. “This dinosaur had feathers on its forearms. Now watch.” With precision calipers, he measured the diameter of the quill knobs, then the diameter of the quill of the fossil feather; both were 3.5 millimetres. “This matches,” he said. “This says a feather of this size would be associated with a limb of this size.”

There was more, including a piece of a partly burned tree trunk with amber stuck to it. He showed me a photo of the amber seen through a microscope. Trapped inside were two impact particles—another landmark discovery, because the amber would have preserved their chemical composition. (All other tektites found from the impact, exposed to the elements for millions of years, have chemically changed.) He’d also found scores of beautiful examples of lonsdaleite, a hexagonal form of diamond that is associated with impacts; it forms when carbon in an asteroid is compressed so violently that it crystallizes into trillions of microscopic grains, which are blasted into the air and drift down.

Finally, he showed me a photograph of a fossil jawbone; it belonged to the mammal he’d found in the burrow. “This is the jaw of Dougie,” he said. The bone was big for a Cretaceous mammal—three inches long—and almost complete, with a tooth. After my visit to Hell Creek, DePalma had removed the animal’s burrow intact, still encased in the block of sediment, and, with the help of some women who worked as cashiers at the Travel Center, in Bowman, hoisted it into the back of his truck. He believes that the jaw belonged to a marsupial that looked like a weasel. Using the tooth, he could conduct a stable-isotope study to find out what the animal ate—“what the menu was after the disaster,” he said. The rest of the mammal remains in the burrow, to be researched later.

DePalma listed some of the other discoveries he’s made at the site: several flooded ant nests, with drowned ants still inside and some chambers packed with microtektites; a possible wasp burrow; another mammal burrow, with multiple tunnels and galleries; shark teeth; the thigh bone of a large sea turtle; at least three new fish species; a gigantic ginkgo leaf and a plant that was a relative of the banana; more than a dozen new species of animals and plants; and several other burrow types.

At the bottom of the deposit, in a mixture of heavy gravel and tektites, DePalma identified the broken teeth and bones, including hatchling remains, of almost every dinosaur group known from Hell Creek, as well as pterosaur remains, which had previously been found only in layers far below the KT boundary. He found, intact, an unhatched egg containing an embryo—a fossil of immense research value. The egg and the other remains suggested that dinosaurs and major reptiles were probably not staggering into extinction on that fateful day. In one fell swoop, DePalma may have solved the three-metre problem and filled in the gap in the fossil record.


He had christened the site Tanis, after the ancient city in Egypt, which was featured in the 1981 film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. In the real Tanis, archeologists found an inscription in three writing systems, which, like the Rosetta stone, was crucial in translating ancient Egyptian. DePalma hopes that his Tanis site will help decipher what happened on the first day after the impact.


Richards had previously estimated that the worldwide earthquake generated by the KT impact could have been a thousand times stronger than the biggest earthquake ever experienced in human history. Using that gauge, he calculated that potent seismic waves would have arrived at Tanis six minutes, ten minutes, and thirteen minutes after the impact. (Different types of seismic waves travel at different speeds.) The brutal shaking would have been enough to trigger a large seiche, and the first blobs of glass would have started to rain down seconds or minutes afterward. They would have continued to fall as the seiche waves rolled in and out, depositing layer upon layer of sediment and each time sealing the tektites in place. The Tanis site, in short, did not span the first day of the impact: it probably recorded the first hour or so. This fact, if true, renders the site even more fabulous than previously thought. It is almost beyond credibility that a precise geological transcript of the most important sixty minutes of Earth’s history could still exist millions of years later—a sort of high-speed, high-resolution video of the event recorded in fine layers of stone. DePalma said, “It’s like finding the Holy Grail clutched in the bony fingers of Jimmy Hoffa, sitting on top of the Lost Ark.” If Tanis had been closer to or farther from the impact point, this beautiful coincidence of timing could not have happened. “There’s nothing in the world that’s ever been seen like this,” Richards told me.


These are not the mentioned K-T impact simulation. They are much smaller and, therefore, more likely impacts simulated to predict tsunami dangers:


66-million-year-old deathbed linked to dinosaur-killing meteor
29 Mar 2019

The beginning of the end started with violent shaking that raised giant waves in the waters of an inland sea in what is now North Dakota.
Then, tiny glass beads began to fall like birdshot from the heavens. The rain of glass was so heavy it may have set fire to much of the vegetation on land. In the water, fish struggled to breathe as the beads clogged their gills.

The heaving sea turned into a 30-foot wall of water when it reached the mouth of a river, tossing hundreds, if not thousands, of fresh-water fish—sturgeon and paddlefish—onto a sand bar and temporarily reversing the flow of the river. Stranded by the receding water, the fish were pelted by glass beads up to 5 millimeters in diameter, some burying themselves inches deep in the mud. The torrent of rocks, like fine sand, and small glass beads continued for another 10 to 20 minutes before a second large wave inundated the shore and covered the fish with gravel, sand and fine sediment, sealing them from the world for 66 million years.
Man, would I love to see that site... But not the sight of that asteroid... If you saw it, you likely were scared to death, dead, dying, or wishing you were dead not too long afterwards.
Fossil Site Reveals Day That Meteor Hit Earth and, Maybe, Wiped Out Dinosaurs
A jumble of entombed plants and creatures offers a vivid glimpse of the apocalypse that all but ended life 66 million years ago.

In the deposit, the team discovered an ancient freshwater pond whose occupants had been quickly cemented together by waves of sediment and debris. The fossils include sturgeon and six-foot-long paddlefish, their scales intact but their bodies ripped and smashed; marine mollusks; leaves and tree fronds, and the burned trunks of trees. The fish carcasses were not bloated, decayed, or scavenged, suggesting that they were buried quickly — and that few animals were left alive after the cataclysm to come digging.

The fossil deposit also teems with tektites, tiny glass beads that are the telltale fallout of planetary-scale impacts. Fifty percent of the fossilized fish were found with tektites in their gills, as if the fish had inhaled the material. Also recovered were tektites trapped in amber. Their chemical composition was unchanged in 66 million years, and it closely matched the unique chemical signature of other tektites associated with the Chicxulub event.
The top layer of the fossil bed was found to be rich in iridium, a rare metal that Dr. Alvarez had originally identified at other sites as arising from the giant object that struck the Earth. Iridium, a precious metal belonging to the platinum group of elements, is more abundant in meteorites than in terrestrial rocks.

“Just the idea of fish with impact particles stuck in their gills from 66 million years ago, and trees with amber with impact particles, it’s so extraordinary that you do a double take for sure,” said Matthew Lamanna, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who was not involved with the research. “With the caveat that what they’re trying to show is really, really hard to show, I think they’ve done an excellent job of making that case.”

Images from various sites:





A partially exposed, perfectly preserved 66-million-year-old fish fossil uncovered by Mr. DePalma and his colleagues:


Tektites, 1 millimeter spheres of glass, recovered from the Tanis fossil bed:


Mr. DePalma and Kylie Ruble, a field assistant, excavating fossil carcasses in North Dakota:


An artist’s impression of what the Chicxulub crater might have eventually looked like after an asteroid struck the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Researchers studied the peak rings, or circular hills, inside the crater:


Awesome drone overview:

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