Newly uncovered fossils in North Dakota appear to be the victims of one of the most catastrophic days in Earth’s history—the day the dinosaurs died 66 million years ago. A team of researchers led by paleontologist Robert DePalma reports chaotic debris created by two huge waves that surged up a river from an ancient inland sea. They say the site holds much more evidence that will keep them busy for years to come.
Stunning Fossil Discovery Could Offer Glimpse into Day the Dinosaurs Died
Published: April 22, 2019
Onscreen: Newly uncovered fossils in North Dakota appear to be the victims of the most catastrophic day in Earth’s history… the day the dinosaurs died.
Jay Melosh: You basically get a snapshot at the time that all these critters were dying. I think of this as the paleontological discovery of the century.
Onscreen: A team of researchers led by paleontologist Robert DePalma says they uncovered chaotic debris created by two huge waves that surged up a river from an ancient inland sea.
Robert DePalma: Essentially what you are looking at is a cross-section of what was alive at the time and you’re looking at a moment-by-moment record of conditions right after impact.
Onscreen: Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid smashed into Earth along the coast of Mexico setting off a chain reaction of apocalyptic events.
David Kring: Massive earthquakes, immense landslides, and tsunamis or tidal waves that radiated across the Gulf of Mexico basin and for those of us in the United States, incursions of flood waters up onto the continent.
Onscreen: Scientists think the impact also launched molten rock into the atmosphere where it formed little beads, called tektites, that rained back down to Earth.
Jan Smit: DePalma pried out a region of the gills, and there was a collection of tektites stuck in the gills right there on the spot. From then I was totally convinced that he had something fantastic in that area.
DePalma: What we see is these ejecta beads, these ejecta spherules caught in the gills of the fish. So that shows that these fish were alive right up until the time they were buried in the mud. They were entombed relatively instantaneously that’s why they are so well preserved. They are three-dimensionally preserved. That’s how we know that this was a very rapid event.
Onscreen: Team members say the site holds much more evidence that will keep them busy for years to come.
DePalma: This site and the research actually directly applies to what we’ve got going on today because this impact is one of our only test beds to see how the world ecology responds to major natural hazards and extinction-level events.
Smit: There are lots of open questions to answer all the beautiful observations we have. We are just at the beginning.
Digital Producer: Emily Zendt
Additional Footage: University of Kansas / Robert DePalma
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