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FW: CORRELATIVE AND CAUSITIVE SCIENCE WHEN DEALING WITH EXTINCTIO N SCENARIOS




-----Original Message-----
From:   Stewart, Dwight 
Sent:   Wednesday, August 12, 1998 5:46 PM
To:     'Dinogeorge@aol.com'; Tetanurae@aol.com; <mailto:Tetanurae@aol.com;>
dinosaur@usc.edu <mailto:dinosaur@usc.edu> 
Subject:        RE: CORRELATIVE AND CAUSITIVE SCIENCE WHEN DEALING WITH
EXTINCTION SCENARIOS

There are several issues to consider in an impact, the first being Newton's
basic force equation: F = ma; or force = mass X acceleration.  As has been
mentioned before, the material of the impacting object is also a crucial
element, as is the material & mass
Of the impacted object.  With both objects moving, the result is additive.
We'd certainly have a more robust model if there had been a recent
collision.  One wonders, was the WHATEVER in Siberia a comet?  There's a
good bit of information about the Krakatoa explosion, & the effects were
felt around the world.  BUT, it wasn't an impact; it was a ballistic
volcanic eruption, so the analogy with say - an asteroid impact isn't a
really great match.  :-)  Nevertheless, it is estimated (HEAVY accent on
ESTIMATED) that the Krakatoa explosion may have had the force of 5 or 6 50
megaton hydrogen bombs.   
 Personally, I have wondered about the KT extinction theory a good bit.
When I was a young, "abused", underpaid, & overworked graduate student in
physics (LONG AGO!) I did some work for a Professor Wilson, who was working
on a longterm project with the 
American Geophysical Society, collecting & analyzing core samples from the
south pole.  I crunched gas phase numbers for months!
We also looked for organic material, minerals, etc.  Many of these samples
included Mesozoic material.  Some of these samples are STILL being collected
& analyzed.  We found what APPEARED to be evidence of an alloy heavy impact
from several of these samples.
I recall a high nickel, iron, & (not sure about this one), but I think zinc
content from a few samples.  The section of the samples that showed this
were Cretaceous.  The odd thing is, only a few of the Cretaceous section
samples showed these high metal contents.  From my gas phase crunching, I
also recall high oxygen content from Jurassic &
Cretaceous samples, higher than NOW, for instance.  I wasn't in on the
interpretation of these findings.  I was just a "grad grunt", but I recall
several theories being bandied about regarding the high proportional O2
contents.  One was that the O2 level really WAS higher then & another was
that other gases tended to leach out or otherwise escape from the sampled
cores more easily.  But I recall some numbers.  I recall some Jurassic areas
in samples yielding O2 contents that were ~ 22% higher than our current
level (at a comparable altitude).  There were several theories about the
metallic heavy sections too & one was "an asteroid".  Whether or not this
was
THE supposed KT asteroid, I don't know.
 However, I still find myself troubled by the selectivity of the KT
extinction theory.  IF most dinosaurs were endothermic or "metathermic",
were large endotherms more vulnerable? And, if so, why did the sub 50 kg
dinosaurs also die out?  Had most of them already evolved into birds?  Were
there small nonavian species alive towards the end of the Cretaceous?  I
thought there were examples?

Dwight  

        -----Original Message-----
        From:   Dinogeorge@aol.com <mailto:Dinogeorge@aol.com>
[SMTP:Dinogeorge@aol.com] <mailto:[SMTP:Dinogeorge@aol.com]> 
        Sent:   Tuesday, August 11, 1998 8:23 PM
        To:     Tetanurae@aol.com; <mailto:Tetanurae@aol.com;>
dinosaur@usc.edu <mailto:dinosaur@usc.edu> 
        Subject:        Re: CORRELATIVE AND CAUSITIVE SCIENCE WHEN DEALING
WITH EXTINCTION SCENARIOS

        In a message dated 98-08-11 17:49:27 EDT, Tetanurae writes:

        << George Olshevsky wrote:
         <<We have a hole in the ground, we have lots of missing animals,
and, most
         important, we have extremely good information on the timing of
these two
         events. As far as we can tell, within the bounds of error, they
occur
         simultaneously.>>
         
         Yes, yes, blah.  They happened at roughly the same time: so what?
I brush my
        teeth at roughly thr same time I take a shower.  That doesn't mean I
brush my
        teeth while I'm in the shower.  You have a correlation, and that's
just it.>>

        As a matter of fact, unless you're peculiar, you do >not< brush your
teeth at
        the same time that you take a shower, within known error bounds; you
generally
        brush your teeth slightly before or slightly after you take a
shower. Your
        analogy breaks down.

        As I noted before, if the K-T asteroid impact occurred at almost
(I'll give
        you an "almost" here, although geologically speaking it is
simultaneous)
        exactly the same time that something like half the species on earth
became
        extinct for some other, totally unrelated reason or reasons, it's
easily the
        most cosmic coincidence in the history of the universe. Like the
bystanders in
        my gunman analogy, who suddenly died of heart failure instants
before the
        gunman's bullets entered their bodies.

        << What you need is a positive cause of the extinctions that would
have come
        from rocks falling from the sky.  So far all I have seen are either
        rediculous, ludicrus, or ignorant explanations.>>

        Well, you should go back and read the papers, and without a
jaundiced eye,
        either. The cause is >quite< positive.
         
        << They either pose a scenario which wouldn't have killed ANYTHING
because the
        nuclear winter or whatever would have lasted about a week and would
have just
        yellowed the figurative grass.>>

        This is probably what happens after >most< asteroid/meteor/comet
impacts.
        They're not big enough to do more than local damage, like the
Tunguska impact
        of 1908 or the much bigger impact that gave us Meteor Crater in
Arizona. We
        all know this, and we're not talking about such "puny" events.
         
        << Or, they propose scenarios that would have killed everything on
the planet.
        Decades of freezing or baking temperatures that would have either
burnt,
        killed or froze every single plant, seed or spore on the planet, not
to
        mention phytoplankton, and the starving animals that fed on them
(and those
        that fed on them).  Point is: everything would have died.
         
         The ecosystem would not have been devistated, it would have been
destroyed.
         
         Completely.

         Nothing would survive.>>

        This is indeed what would happen if an asteroid the size of Texas or
bigger
        were to hit the earth at a cosmic velocity. Fortunately, these seem
to have
        been all used up 4 billion years ago, before life got a foothold on
earth.
        Something the size of Rhode Island once hit the moon and created
Mare Imbium.
        Doubtless the earth had its share of similar impacts after it was
formed.
         
        << There is no way that you could have killed off one group of
organisms
        without killing everything.>>

        Life is pretty tenacious, and asteroids big enough to kill off
>everything<
        are gone from the inner solar system. What are left among the truly
dangerous
        items are asteroids in the 5-10km size range, and comet nuclei from
the Oort
        Cloud and the Kuiper Belt. (Comet Hale-Bopp was hefty enough to have
done
        terrific damage had it hit the earth.) These have the potential to
destroy a
        good deal of life on earth, particularly us rather delicate
multicellular
        organisms, but I doubt whether they would have the energy to roast
        >everything.<
         
        << Any in-between scenario would have to explain why the extinction
was SOOOO
        selective when the agent of destruction was so all encompassing.
Counter to
        George's claim to the contrary the rock from the sky supporters DO
have to
        explain why some things survived with no problems.  Why did
nautiloids go on
        with no problems, while ammonites didn't.  Why did neornithine birds
live and
        enantiornithines die?>>

        Who knows what problems the asteroid impact may have caused for
nautiloids?
        They were probably decimated--they just weren't decimated enough,
like the
        ammonites.

        I agree that these interesting facts require explanation. But as in
my earlier
        gunman analogy, you are arguing that, since asteroids obviously
didn't kill
        >everything<, the one that hit at the K-T boundary couldn't have
killed
        >anything<. This, of course, is quite wrong, as I think I've
demonstrated. It
        certainly could, and it did.
         
        << Another thing I would like to point out to everyone is the size
of the rock
        that fell from the sky.  Get a globe, your standard American 12"
diameter
        globe will be fine for my example.  I have heard estimates of the
size of this
        rock from between 6 and 10 miles across.  That means that with the
12" globe
        the rock that killed the dinosaurs would be between 1/110 and 1/66
of an
        inch!!!  This is bordering on microscopic.>>

        It is not the size of the object that matters, it's the kinetic
energy that
        determines how powerful the impact will be. You remember, KE =
(1/2)(mv^2)
        [without relativistic correction]? The energy increases with the
square of the
        relative velocity. An asteroid or comet colliding head on with the
earth might
        be traveling at something like 50 km/sec--much faster than
earth-escape
        velocity. And even if the asteroid were ten miles across, it would
still be
        the size of, say, San Diego. Hardly a grain of dust. All this
kinetic energy
        would be released within a few seconds at the impact point as the
asteroid
        came to rest: something like a few million to a billion or more
times the
        energy released in the Hiroshima atomic explosion. The asteroid
would be
        vaporized, along with a good chunk of terrestrial real estate,
pieces of which
        would be blown completely around the world.

        The highest-energy cosmic rays known to strike the earth pack the
wallop of a
        thrown baseball into a single proton. If you were hit by one of
these protons,
        it could knock you down (assuming it didn't just tear through you
but got
        stuck somehow). And how big is a proton relative to yourself? >Far<
smaller
        than the asteroid relative to the earth. Energy is the key factor
here, not
        just size.
         
        << And this tiny partical of dust is supposed to kick up enough dust
and rock
        to cloud up the atmosphere, block out the sun, then bake the earth
enough to
        cause massive firestorms!?  Give me a break!  Am the only one that
thinks that
        this is just slightly absurd? >>

        Probably. We know that pulverized asteroid landed everywhere around
the world,
        because that's largely what makes up the K-T boundary clay. We know
that
        pieces of the Yucatan peninsula were blown out to the other side of
Florida,
        because we've found them there. What else might such a blast have
done?

        We've observed the effects of a comet impact on Jupiter; the
individual pieces
        of the comet left earth-size holes in its atmosphere that may still
be
        visible, and the impact flashes were easily seen through telescopes
here on
        earth.

        Now, suppose the K-T asteroid had a companion, or was a "double" or
"multiple"
        asteroid--two or more bodies loosely joined together, as was
Shoemaker-Levy 9
        before Jupiter's gravitational field tore it apart. Suppose three or
four such
        objects hit the earth in different places (one leaving the so-called
"Shiva"
        crater in the Indian Ocean, for example--also roughly dated at K-T
boundary
        time) within a couple of days of one another. What then? (I'm not
saying this
        happened, since I think one good-sized impact would have done the
job, but the
        possibility exists, and there's even some evidence for it.) "If the
right one
        don't get ya, the left one will."