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February 9 & 10, 2002

Department of Earth and Space Sciences

University of California, Los Angeles

Held in Room 3400 Boelter Hall, UCLA

Sponsored by
UCLA Earth and Space Sciences Department
UCLA Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics
NASA Astrobiology Institute

Cover art © Don Davis

Does diversification and extinction in North American mammals correlate
with the Cenozoic impact record?
John Alroy……………………………………………………………………………….. 1

Compiling the evidence for impact at seven mass extinctions

Walter Alvarez………………………………………………………………………….. 3

Asteroid impact tsunamis

Erik Asphaug, Steve Ward, and Don Korycansky………………………………………. 8

Fullerenes and interplanetary dust (IDPs) at the Permian-Triassic

Luann Becker and Robert J. Poreda…………………………………………………….. 10

Laboratory Studies of Shock-Induced Amino Acid Polymerization and

Implications for Impact-Generated Production of Biomolecules
Jennifer G. Blank……………………………………………………………………….. 12

High-precision geochronology and the geological record of catastrophic

S.A. Bowring…………………………………………………………………………….. 14

The impact crater as a habitat

C.S. Cockell…………………………………………………………………………….. 16

Mass extinctions in the Phanerozoic: a single cause and if yes, which?

Vincent Courtillot……………………………………………………………………….. 18

Reliability of the geological record of meteorite impacts: Evidence from

Spain, and implications for astrobiology
Enrique Díaz-Martínez………………………………………………………………….. 19

Analysis of the support for and against an extra-terrestrial impact at the

Permo-Triassic boundary
Douglas H. Erwin……………………………………………………………………….. 20

The Extraterrestrial 3He Record: How Far Back Can We Go?

K.A. Farley, S. Mukhopadhyay, and A. Montanari…………………………………….. 22

Plankton and Isotope changes at the late Neoproterozoic Acraman impact

ejecta layer
Kathleen Grey, Malcolm R. Walter, and Clive R. Calver……………………………….. 23

Mars, Panspermia, and the Origin of Life: Where did it all begin?
Joseph L. Kirschvink…………………………………………………………………….. 25

The ESF scientific program: Response of the Earth System to Impact

Processes (IMPACT)
Christian Koeberl…………………………………………….………………………….. 26

Environmental consequences of impact cratering events as a function of

ambient conditions on Earth
David A. Kring………………………………………………………………………….. 28

Distinguishing comet and asteroid materials in impact deposits

Frank T. Kyte………………………………………………………………………….. 31

Environmental and sedimentological effects of Archean impacts recorded

in the 3.5-3.2 Ga Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa
Donald R. Lowe, and Gary R. Byerly………………………………………………….. 34

Origin of water on Earth and Mars

J.I. Lunine……………………………………………………………………………….. 37

Interstellar panspermia
H. J. Melosh…………………………………………………………………………….. 39

The asteroid and comet impact hazard

David Morrison…………………………………………………………..…………….. 41
He flux from the late Cretaceous to the early Cenozoic: Constraining the
nature of extraterrestrial accretionary events
S. Mukhopadhyay, K.A. Farley, A. Montanari………………………………………….. 43

Climatic effects produced by stratospheric loading of S-bearing gases

released in the Chicxulub impact event
E. Pierazzo……………………………………………………………….…………….. 45

Planet formation and impacts

Thomas R. Quinn……………………………………………………………………….. 47

Bombardment of the Hadean Earth: Wholesome or deleterious?

Graham Ryder………………………………………………………………………….. 49

Spherule event horizons: The other (and better?) record of impacts in early
Earth history
Bruce M. Simonson and Scott W. Hassler…………………………………………….. 53

Timing of (mass)extinctions at the K/T boundary
Jan Smit………………………………………………………………………………….. 57

Molecular signatures of microbial life

Roger E. Summons………………………………………………………………..…….. 59

Comparing the P/T, T/J and K/T events: New insights from new field
Peter Ward…………………………………………………………………….……….. 60

Large aerial bursts; an important class of terrestrial accretionary events

John T. Wasson………………………………………………………………………….. 61

The comet and asteroid impactor flux on the Earth

Paul R. Weissman……………………………………………………………………….. 64

Before uniformitarionism: Impacts in the Hadean

Kevin Zahnle…………………………………………………………………………….. 66


John Alroy. NCEAS/The Paleobiology Database, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA


The few major mass extinction events in the fossil record have received intense study.
However, background rates of extinction have proven difficult to quantify, leaving their
connection to large-scale physical disturbances unknown. Key problems include poor temporal
correlations and calibrations; varying time interval durations (Foote 1994); confounding
geographic, paleoenvironmental, and taphonomic signals (e.g., Allison and Briggs 1993); the
misleading use of higher taxa as proxies for species (Sepkoski and Kendrick 1993); uncorrected
synonymies and misidentifications; the use of biased extinction rate metrics (Foote 2000); and
most importantly, variation through time in the overall amount of fossil data (Raup 1972, 1976).

A compilation of published literature concerning the Cenozoic mammals of North America

(Alroy 1996, 2000) offers good control for all of these bias factors, with an entirely quantitative
time scale divided uniformly into 1.0 m.y. bins. The data set is a component of the Paleobiology
Database (Alroy et al. 2001). Previous analyses (Alroy et al. 2000) showed that gross changes in
global climate recorded by oxygen isotope analyses of benthic foraminiferans have no impact on
the extinction rates, taxonomic diversity, taxonomic composition, or body mass distributions.
Instead, major biotic patterns, such as a dynamic equilibrium in taxonomic diversity (Stucky
1990; Alroy 1996) and a long-term trend of increase in body mass (Alroy 1998), are governed by
ecological interactions such as competition.

Here I present a very preliminary test of the hypothesis that major bolide impacts drive
background extinction rates (Raup 1991). Fortunately, a comprehensive global compilation of
impact crater dates and diameters has been published (Jetsu 1997). Unfortunately, the number of
known post-K-T boundary Cenozoic craters is not very large, many of them have poorly
constrained ages, and the distribution is clumped in the late Neogene, so many older craters
remain to be discovered or no longer exist.

Assuming that large craters are more likely to be sampled, I selected only the largest known
crater within each 1.0 m.y.-long temporal bin. For binning purposes, averages of crater ages
were used when ranges were given. For the 18 bins that have a crater estimate, there is a near-
zero correlation between maximum crater diameters and either extinction rates (rank-order
correlation rS = +0.097; n.s.) or origination rates (rS = -0.047; n.s.). Bins with craters average the
same extinction rates (Mann-Whitney U-test: t = 1.142; n.s.) and origination rates (Mann-
Whitney U-test: t = 0.254; n.s.) as other post-K-T bins without craters. All of the five known
major mammalian biotic transitions during the Cenozoic (Alroy et al. 2001) are within 2 m.y. of
a known crater. However, in every case the crater has a diameter < 20 km, and the two largest
craters -- one 45 km and the other 100 km -- occur at times of unremarkable biotic change.

Although additional connections between the impact record need to be explored, perhaps
using other kinds of proxies, these results do challenge the "kill curve" hypothesis of Raup
(1991). At least for the moment, intrinsically-governed models of biotic dynamics remain our

best explanatory framework for understanding large-scale evolutionary phenomena.

Allison, P. A., and D. E. G. Briggs. 1993. Paleolatitudinal sampling bias, Phanerozoic species
diversity, and the end-Permian extinction. Geology 21:65-68.
Alroy, J. 1996. Constant extinction, constrained diversification, and uncoordinated stasis in
North American mammals. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 127:285-
--------. 1998. Cope's rule and the dynamics of body mass evolution in North American
mammals. Science 280:731-734.
--------. 2000. New methods for quantifying macroevolutionary patterns and processes.
Paleobiology 26:707-733.
Alroy, J., P. L. Koch, and J. C. Zachos. 2000. Global climate change and North American
mammalian evolution. Paleobiology 26, supplement:259-288.
Alroy, J., C. R. Marshall, and 23 others. 2001. Effects of sampling standardization on estimates
of Phanerozoic marine diversification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
USA 98:6261-6266.
Foote, M. 1994. Temporal variation in extinction risk and temporal scaling of extinction
metrics. Paleobiology 20:424-444.
--------. 2000. Origination and extinction components of taxonomic diversity: general problems.
Paleobiology 26, supplement:74-102.
Jetsu, L. 1997. The "human" statistics of terrestrial impact cratering rate. Astronomy and
Astrophysics 321:L33-L36.
Raup, D. M. 1972. Taxonomic diversity during the Phanerozoic. Science 177:1065-1071.
--------. 1976. Species diversity in the Phanerozoic: an interpretation. Paleobiology 2:289-297.
--------. 1991. A kill curve for Phanerozoic marine species. Paleobiology 17:37-48.
Sepkoski, J. J., Jr., and D. C. Kendrick. 1993. Numerical experiments with model monophyletic
and paraphyletic taxa. Paleobiology 19:168-184.
Stucky, R. K. 1990. Evolution of land mammal diversity in North America during the
Cenozoic. Pp. 375-432 in Current mammalogy, Vol. 2 (H. H. Genoways, ed.). Plenum
Press, Mt. Kisco, New York, 596 pp.

Walter Alvarez, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California,
Berkeley, CA 94720-4767 (

In 1981, at the first Snowbird Conference, on “Geological implications of impacts of large

asteroids and comets on the Earth,” those of us who were impressed by the evidence for impact
at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) boundary hoped, and probably even expected, that within a few
years there would be strong evidence for impact at each of the five major mass extinctions
identified by Raup and Sepkoski (1982). That has manifestly not been the case. Evidence of
many kinds for a KT impact accumulated through the 1980s and culminated in the early 1990s
with the recognition of the Chicxulub Crater, in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Chicxulub is
the largest impact structure known on Earth and dates precisely to the KT boundary (Hildebrand
et al., 1991; Smit et al., 1992). Additional evidence for a KT impact has emerged since then.

Finding evidence for impact at other mass extinction horizons has been much more difficult.
The only other mass extinction level at which abundant evidence for impact has been found is
the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. This is not even one of the five major Raup-Sepkoski events,
and both the extinction and the impact evidence are spread out stratigraphically.
Through the 1980s, the major competing causal hypothesis for the KT extinction was
volcanism, with some volcanists attributing the KT extinction to explosive volcanism and others
to flood basalt eruption of the Deccan Traps in India. The recognition of the Chicxulub structure
as the largest impact crater known on Earth (Hildebrand et al., 1991) and the discovery of its
ejecta precisely at the biostratigraphic horizon of the extinction (Smit et al., 1992; Alvarez et al.,
1992) seemed to settle the case in favor of impact. Recently, however, the impact-volcanism
debate has reopened in a new formulation (Courtillot, 1999; Wignall, 2001). In this view,
foreshadowed by an early correlation of flood basalts and mass extinctions (Rampino and
Stothers, 1988), flood basalts provide a general causal explanation for mass extinctions. The KT
is seen as an exceptional case where a large impact happened to occur during a time of flood-
basalt eruption, producing a sudden spike of extinctions within a fauna already stressed and
undergoing more gradual extinction due to the effects of Deccan volcanism.

As Wignall (2001, p. 23) states, “By far the most compelling evidence for a link between
volcanism and extinctions comes from the comparison of the ages of flood basalt provinces and
mass extinction events….” Three of Raup and Sepkoski’s five major events correlate closely
with major flood basalts (Siberian Traps @ ~250 Ma: PT; Central Atlantic Magmatic Province,
or CAMP, @ ~200 Ma: TJ; Deccan @ ~65 Ma: KT). In addition, the newly recognized
Emeishan flood basalts in southwest China appear to correlate with the Middle Permian-Late
Permian mass extinction, which also has recently been recognized as a major event separate from
the PT extinction a few Myr later (Jin et al., 1994; Stanley and Yang, 1994); this event occurred
at or about the Capitanian-Wuchiapingian (CW) boundary. Finally, there is a preliminary report
that an earlier flood basalt in Siberia correlates with the Late Devonian, or Frasnian-Fammenian
(FF) mass extinction (Vincent Courtillot et al., in press and personal communication).

Although I have long been a proponent of impact at the KT boundary, I hold no brief for all
extinctions being caused by impact. If the evidence for a flood basalt-extinction link is

compelling, we should accept that conclusion. However, before accepting it, we should carefully
examine the evidence.

There are inherent asymmetries in comparing the evidence for impact and volcanism as
competing explanations for mass extinctions. (1) Flood basalts typically cover areas of order
105-106 km2, compared to 103-104 km2 for large impact craters; thus flood-basalt provinces are
more likely to be preserved and found. (2) Several varieties of ejecta can be spread worldwide
and end up in the stratigraphic record, where they provide proxies for impact. Their absence at a
mass-extinction horizon thus weakens a claimed impact-extinction link. Distal proxies for flood
basalts have not been found in the stratigraphic record, so proposed volcanism-extinction links
are not falsifiable in this way. (3) Flood basalts erupt over intervals of one to a few million
years, and if an extinction occurs in that interval, the flood basalt will be considered a candidate
explanation for the extinction. Impacts, being instantaneous and recorded as very thin
stratigraphic horizons of ejecta, are easier to falsify, on a chronological basis, as an explanation
for any given extinction.

As noted above, volcanism as an explanation for extinction is supported primarily by age

correlation, based on radiometric dating of the volcanic rocks or on biostratigraphic constraints
from units above and below a flood basalt. Impact as an explanation for extinction is based on
various proxies in the stratigraphic record, and in three cases on craters dated radiometrically or
biostratigraphically (Chicxulub, Popigai, Chesapeake).

It would be useful to the community of researchers to have a compilation of evidence for

impact and for volcanism at prominent extinction levels. This is probably something that should
be prepared by a group of workers experienced in the field. The following table of evidence for
impact at times of mass extinction is intended as a start in this direction. It is based on studies I
know about, but there are almost surely other lines of evidence that should be added. I have
chosen seven mass extinctions — the five major extinctions from Raup and Sepkoski (1982),
plus the recently recognized Capitanian-Wuchiapingian boundary extinction, and the Eocene-
Oligocene biotic crisis, which is less important but has yielded several lines of evidence for

An important but difficult task in developing a compilation of this sort would be to make
judgements on which lines of reported evidence have subsequently been confirmed or falsified.
Each line of evidence involves (1) observational and/or measurement data, and (2) an
interpretation of those data. Both data and interpretation as subject to confirmation or rejection
in studies postdating the original report. Although there may by now be widely accepted
conclusions on some lines of evidence, others remain controversial or untested. The UCLA
Workshop should be an appropriate forum for discussing whether there is a feasible way of
evaluating the current level of acceptance of different lines of evidence, how such a compilation
might be prepared, and how a parallel compilation of data on flood-basalt provinces might be

I would welcome e-mail comments, and additions or corrections to the preliminary table.

Table 1. A compilation observations cited as evidence in support of an impact at mass
Target Spherules 1973 (Glass et al., 1973)
Bolide Iridium 1993 (Ganapathy, 1982; Alvarez et al., 1982)
Target Coesite 1993 (Glass and Wu, 1993)
Target Shocked quartz 1993 (Glass and Wu, 1993)
Target Chesapeake crater 1996 (Poag, 1996)
Target Popigai crater 1997 (Bottomley et al., 1997)
Bolide Ni-rich spinels 1998 (Pierrard et al., 1998)
Bolide 3He anomaly 1998 (Farley et al., 1998)
Target Shocked zircon 2001 (Glass and Liu, 2001)
Bolide Iridium 1980 (Alvarez et al., 1980)
Bolide PGE ratios 1980 (Ganapathy, 1980; Asaro et al., 1980;
Kyte et al., 1980)
Target Spherules - microkrystites 1981 (Smit and Klaver, 1981)
Bolide Os isotopic ratios 1983 (Luck and Turekian, 1983)
Target Shocked quartz 1984 (Bohor et al., 1984)
Bolide Rhodium 1988 (Bekov et al., 1988)
Target Stishovite 1989 (Bohor et al., 1984; McHone et al., 1989)
Bolide? Extraterrestrial amino acids 1989 (Zhao and Bada, 1989)
Target Spherules - microtektites 1990 (Izett et al., 1990)
Target Shocked zircon 1990 (Bohor et al., 1990)
Target Chicxulub Crater 1991 (Hildebrand et al., 1991)
? Diamonds 1991 (Carlisle and Braman, 1991)
Bolide Ni-rich spinels 1991 (Robin et al., 1991)
Biota? Fullerenes 1994 (Heymann et al., 1994)
Bolide Chondritic Cr isotopes 1998 (Shukolyukov and Lugmair, 1998)
Bolide Fullerenes with He 2000 (Becker et al., 2000)
Bolide Nanophase Fe-rich material 2001 (Wdowiak et al., 2001)
Target Shocked quartz 1992 (Bice et al., 1992)
Biota Abrupt extinction 1998 (Bowring et al., 1998)
Bolide Fullerenes with 3He 2001 (Becker et al., 2001)
Bolide Nanophase Fe-rich material 2001 (Verma et al., 2001)
Biota Abrupt extinction 1970 (McLaren, 1970)
Bolide Iridium 1983 (Nicoll and Playford, 1993)
Target Glassy microtektites 1992 (Wang, 1992; Claeys et al., 1992)

Alvarez, L.W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F., and Michel, H.V., 1980, Extraterrestrial cause for the
Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction: Science, v. 208, p. 1095-1108.
Alvarez, W., Asaro, F., Michel, H.V., and Alvarez, L.W., 1982, Iridium anomaly approximately
synchronous with terminal Eocene extinctions.: Science, v. 216, p. 886-888.
Alvarez, W., Smit, J., Lowrie, W., Asaro, F., Margolis, S.V., Claeys, P., Kastner, M., and
Hildebrand, A.R., 1992, Proximal impact deposits at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in the
Gulf of Mexico: A restudy of DSDP Leg 77 Sites 536 and 540: Geology, v. 20, p. 697-700.
Asaro, F., Michel, H.V., Alvarez, L.W., and Alvarez, W., 1980, Results of a dating attempt -
Chemical and physical measurements relevant to the cause of the Cretaceous Tertiary
extinctions: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory Report, v. LBL-11613.
Becker, L., Poreda, R., and Bunch, T., 2000, Fullerenes: An extraterrestrial carbon carrier phase
for noble gases: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 97, p. 2979–2983.
Becker, L., Poreda, R.J., Hunt, A.G., Bunch, T.E., and Rampino, M., 2001, Impact event at the
Permian-Triassic boundary; evidence from extraterrestrial noble gases in fullerenes: Science,
v. 291, p. 1530-1533.
Bekov, G.I., Letokhov, V.S., Radaev, V.N., Badyukov, D.D., and Nazarov, M.A., 1988,
Rhodium distribution at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary analysed by ultrasensitive laser
photoionization: Nature, v. 332, p. 146-148.
Bice, D.M., Newton, C.R., McCauley, S.E., Reiners, P.W., and McRoberts, C.A., 1992, Shocked
quartz at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary in Italy: Science, v. 255, p. 443-446.
Bohor, B.F., Foord, E.E., Modreski, P.J., and Triplehorn, D.M., 1984, Mineralogic evidence for
an impact event at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary: Science, v. 224, p. 867-869.
Bohor, B.F., Betterton, W.J., and Foord, E.E., 1990, Shocked zircon and chromite in K/T
boundary claystones: Meteoritics, v. 25, p. 350.
Bottomley, R., Grieve, R., York, D., and Masaitis, V.L., 1997, The age of the Popigai impact
event and its relation to events at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary: Nature (London), v. 388,
p. 365-368.
Bowring, S.A., Erwin, D.H., Jin, Y.G., Martin, M.W., Davidek, K., and Wang, W., 1998, U/Pb
zircon geochronology and tempo of the end-Permian mass extinction: Science, v. 280, p.
Carlisle, D.B., and Braman, D.R., 1991, Nanometre-size diamonds in the Cretaceous Tertiary
boundary clay of Alberta: Nature, v. 352, p. 708-709.
Claeys, P., Casier, J.-G., and Margolis, S.V., 1992, Microtektites and mass extinctions: evidence
for a Late Devonian asteroid impact: Science, v. 257, p. 1102-1104.
Courtillot, V., 1999, Evolutionary catastrophes; the science of mass extinction: Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 173 p.
Farley, K.A., Montanari, A., Shoemaker, E.M., and Shoemaker, C.S., 1998, Geochemical
evidence for a comet shower in the late Eocene: Science, v. 280, p. 1250-1253.
Ganapathy, R., 1980, A major meteorite impact on the Earth 65 million years ago: evidence
from the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary clay: Science, v. 209, p. 921-923.
Ganapathy, R., 1982, Evidence for a major meteorite impact on the earth 34 million years ago:
Implications for Eocene extinctions.: Science, v. 216, p. 885-886.
Glass, B.P., Baker, R.N., Störzer, D., and Wagner, G.A., 1973, North American microtektites
from the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 19, p.
Glass, B.P., and Wu, J., 1993, Coseite and shocked quartz discovered in the Australatian and
North American microtektite layers: Geology, v. 21, p. 435-438.
Glass, B.P., and Liu, S., 2001, Discovery of high-pressure ZrSiO4 polymorph in naturally
occurring shock-metamorphosed zircons: Geology, v. 29, p. 371-373.
Heymann, D., Chibante, L.P.F., Brooks, R.R., Wolbach, W.S., and Smalley, R.E., 1994,
Fullerenes in the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary layer: Science, v. 265, p. 645-647.

Hildebrand, A.R., Penfield, G.T., Kring, D.A., Pilkington, M., Camargo Z., A., Jacobsen, S.B.,
and Boynton, W.V., 1991, Chicxulub crater: a possible Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary impact
crater on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico: Geology, v. 19, p. 867-871.
Izett, G.A., Maurrasse, F.J.-M.R., Lichte, F.E., Meeker, G.P., and Bates, R., 1990, Tektites in
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary rocks on Haiti: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report, v.
90-635, p. 1-31.
Jin, Y., Zhang, J., and Shang, Q., 1994, Two phases of the end-Permian mass extinction:
Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists Memoir, v. 17, p. 813-822.
Kyte, F.T., Zhou, Z., and Wasson, J.T., 1980, Siderophile-enriched sediments from the
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary: Nature, v. 288, p. 651-656.
Luck, J.M., and Turekian, K.K., 1983, Osmium-187/Osmium-186 in manganese nodules and the
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary: Science, v. 222, p. 613-615.
McHone, J.F., Nieman, R.A., Lewis, C.F., and Yates, A.M., 1989, Stishovite at the Cretaceous-
Tertiary boundary, Raton, New Mexico: Science, v. 243, p. 1182-1184.
McLaren, D.J., 1970, Time, life and boundaries: Journal of Paleontology, v. 44, p. 801-815.
Nicoll, R.S., and Playford, P.E., 1993, Upper Devonian iridium anomalies, conodont zonation
and the Frasnian-Famennian boundary in the Canning Basin, Western Australia:
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 104, p. 105-113.
Pierrard, O., Robin, E., Rocchia, R., and Montanari, A., 1998, Extraterrestrial Ni-rich spinel in
upper Eocene sediments from Massignano, Italy: Geology, v. 26, p. 307-310.
Poag, C.W., 1996, Structural outer rim of Chesapeake Bay impact crater; seismic and bore hole
evidence: Meteoritics, v. 31, p. 218-226.
Rampino, M.R., and Stothers, R.B., 1988, Flood basalt volcanism during the past 250 million
years: Science, v. 241, p. 663-668.
Raup, D.M., and Sepkoski, J.J., Jr., 1982, Mass extinctions in the marine fossil record: Science,
v. 215, p. 1501-1503.
Robin, E., Boclet, D., Bonte, P., Froget, L., Jehanno, C., and Rocchia, R., 1991, The stratigraphic
distribution of Ni-rich spinels In Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary rocks at El-Kef (Tunisia),
Caravaca (Spain) and Hole-761C (Leg-122): Earth And Planetary Science Letters, v. 107, p.
Shukolyukov, A., and Lugmair, G.W., 1998, Isotopic evidence for the Cretaceous-Tertiary
impactor and its type: Science, v. 282, p. 927-929.
Smit, J., and Klaver, G., 1981, Sanidine spherules at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary indicate a
large impact event: Nature, v. 292, p. 47-49.
Smit, J., Montanari, A., Swinburne, N.H.M., Alvarez, W., Hildebrand, A.R., Margolis, S.V.,
Claeys, P., Lowrie, W., and Asaro, F., 1992, Tektite-bearing, deep-water clastic unit at the
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in northeastern Mexico: Geology, v. 20, p. 99-103.
Stanley, S.M., and Yang, X., 1994, A double mass extinction at the end of the Paleozoic Era:
Science, v. 266, p. 1340-1344.
Verma, H.C., Upadhyay, C., Tripathi, R.P., Tripathi, A., Shukla, A.D., and N.Bhandari, 2001,
Nano-sized iron phases at the K/T and P/T boundaries revealed by Mössbauer spectroscopy
[extended abstract]: Lunar and Planetary Science, v. 32.
Wang, K., 1992, Glassy microspherules (microtektites) from an Upper Devonian limestone:
Science, v. 256, p. 1547-1550.
Wdowiak, T.J., Armendarez, L.P., Agresti, D.G., Wade, M.L., Wdowiak, S.Y., Claeys, P., and
Izett, G., 2001, Presence of an iron-rich nanophase material in the upper layer of the
Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary clay: Meteoritics and Planetary Science, v. 36, p. 123-133.
Wignall, P.B., 2001, Large igneous provinces and mass extinctions: Earth-Science Reviews, v.
53, p. 1-33.
Zhao, M., and Bada, J.L., 1989, Extraterrestrial amino acids in Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary
sediments at Stevns Klint, Denmark: Nature, v. 339, p. 463-465.


Erik Asphaug, Steve Ward , and Don Korycansky. Earth Sciences Department, University of
California, Santa Cruz, CA U.S.A. 95064 (

Asteroid impacts are hazardous in a variety of ways, from local shock effects (being "hit on
the head") to long-term perturbations of the global climate. At present we focus upon the subset
of impacts whose primary mode of devastation is through impact-generated tsunamis. Two-
thirds of all meteorites strike the ocean, but for those larger than a few kilometers (such as the
K/T bolide) the generation of waves may be of little consequence compared with the noxious and
particulate loading of the atmosphere and the rain of fireball debris. But asteroids and comets
smaller than ~1 km diameter might not be capable of causing global climate perturbation; for
these, tsunamis may present the most efficient means of propagating impact energy to distant
shores, and thus may represent the brunt of their hazard. In the modern era, when most of the
world‚s population and economic infrastructure exists within a short distance from the coast, the
threat of a basin-wide tsunami spawned from a pelagic impact cavity must be taken seriously.

We have investigated the generation, propagation, and probabilistic hazard of tsunamis

spawned by oceanic impacts, and are now in the process of refining those estimates. Our method
is to link the depth and diameter of parabolic impact craters to asteroid density, radius, and
impact velocity by means of elementary energy arguments and crater scaling rules. Then, linear
tsunami theory illustrates how these transient craters evolve into vertical sea surface waveforms
at distant positions and times. By measuring maximum wave amplitude at many distances from
a variety of impactor sizes, we derive simplified attenuation relations that account both for
geometrical spreading and frequency dispersion of tsunami on uniform depth oceans.

As expected, tsunami wavelengths contributing to the peak amplitude coincide closely with
the diameter of the transient impact crater. For impactors smaller than a few hundred meters
diameter, crater widths are less than or comparable to mid-ocean depths. As a consequence,
dispersion increases the 1/sqrt(r) long-wave decay rate to nearly 1/r for tsunami from these
sources. We apply linear shoaling theory at the wavelength associated with peak tsunami
amplitude corrects for amplifications as the waves near land. The application of linear shoaling
theory is probably adequate, insofar as nonlinear effects are highly sensitive to local coastline
bathymetry and near-shore topography: we can only model the linear component of shoaling for
generic tsunamis in any case. But the application of linear theory in modeling tsunami
propagation is something we are currently exploring with computational hydrodynamical

By coupling this tsunami amplitude/distance information with the statistics of asteroid falls,
we assess the probabilistic hazard of impact tsunamis by integrating contributions over all
admissible impactor sizes and impact locations. In particular, the tsunami hazard, expressed as
the Poissonian probability of being inundated by waves from 2 to 50 meter height in a 1000 year
interval, is computed at both generic (generalized geography) and specific (real geography) sites.
For a conservative estimate of the impactor flux, a generic site with 180 degrees of ocean
exposure and a 6,000 km reach admits a 1:23 chance of an impact tsunami of 2 meter height or

greater in 1000 years. The likelihood drops to 1:58 for a 5 meter wave, and to 1:476 for a 25
meter wave. Specific sites of Tokyo and New York have 1:38 and 1:76 chances of suffering an
impact tsunami greater than 5 m in this millennium.

As scientific and political agencies attempt to design plans for safeguarding the human
future, one of the cornerstone issues is to determine what diameter impactor is most dangerous.
From this preliminary analysis, which does not consider all aspects of the impact hazard, and
which presumes linear tsunami theory for its analysis of wave propagation, we conclude that the
most hazardous asteroid is about 200 m diameter, of which there are tens of thousands on
potentially Earth-crossing orbits.


Gersonde, R., Kyte, F.T, Bleil, U., Diekmann, B., Flores, J.A., Gohl, K., Grahl, G., Hagen, R.,
Kuhn, G., Sierro, F.J., Völker, D., Abelmann, A., and Bostwick, J.A. 1997. Geological record
and reconstruction of the late Pliocene impact of the Eltanin asteroid in the Southern Ocean.
Nature 390, 357-363.
Nemtchinov, I.V., V.V. Svetsov, I.B. Kosarev, A.P. Golub, O.P. Popova, V.V. Shuvalov, R.E.
Spalding, C. Jacobs and E. Tagliaferri 1997. Assessment of kinetic energy of mete-oroids
detected by satellite-based light sensors. Icarus 130, 259-274.
Toon, O.B., K. Zahnle, R.P. Turco and C. Covey 1994. Environmental perturbations caused by
asteroid impacts. In Hazards due to Comets and Asteroids, ed. T. Gehrels (Univ. Arizona
Press, Tucson), 791-826.
Ward, S.N. and E. Asphaug 2000. Asteroid impact tsunami: A probabilistic hazard assessment.
Icarus 145, 64-78.


Luann Becker1 and Robert J. Poreda2. 1 Department of Geological Sciences, Institute of

Crustal Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, U.S.A. 2Department of Earth
and Environmental Sciences, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, U.S.A.

In our recent Science paper (1) we presented new evidence that an impact occurred ~250
million years ago at the Permian-Triassic boundary (PTB) triggering the most severe mass
extinction in the history of life on Earth. We used a new extraterrestrial tracer, fullerene; a third
form of carbon besides diamond and graphite. By exploiting the unique properties of this
molecule to trap noble gases inside of its caged structure (helium, neon, argon), we can
determine the origin of the fullerenes (i.e. extraterrestrial, ET, or terrestrial). So far, we have
found fullerenes with ET helium associated with extinction events in five locations at the 65 myr
old Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (KTB) and in two locations in the 250 myr old PTB (1,2).
While it was previously suggested that the fullerenes isolated from some KTB sediments may be
associated with global wildfires triggered by the impact event (i.e. terrestrial) it has now been
accepted that the KTB fullerenes are extraterrestrial, delivered exogenously to the Earth during
the impact event (3,4).

Recently Mukhopadhyay et al., (5) have suggested that asteroidal or cometary impacts can be
determined by measuring the flux of helium-3 in bulk sediments (a proxy for the accretion of
interplanetary dust or IDPs) over geologic time. Measurement of a near constant flux of helium-
3 (3 He) in sediments associated with a discrete boundary event, like the KTB, would be
consistent with an asteroidal impact (5) while an enhanced signature for IDPs coupled with
multiple impacts, like those during the Eocene (6), is consistent with a cometary event. In
contrast, a separate study by Farley and Mukhopadhyay, of 3He in volcanic ash layers across the
Meishan and Shangshi PTB, indicated no signal for 3He leading them to suggest that a large
impact did not accompany the extinction at the PTB (7). However, as pointed out in (8) the
differences in bulk 3He concentrations reported in (7) appear to be directly attributed to sample
selection and preparation. Perhaps more importantly, the preservation of the ET signature in
sediments is directly related to sedimentation rates and the lithology (e.g. clay vs. volcanic ash).

For example, Farley and Patterson (9) have proposed that the flux of 3He measured in some
marine sediment cores co-vary with the 100-kyr component (eccentricity) of the climate signal
(i.e. Milankovitch). Subsequent investigations of marine sediments by Marcantonio et al., (10)
compared the 3He flux with thorium-230 (230Th) accumulation (an independent measurement of
sedimentation rate) and found that the mean flux of IDPs over the past 200-kyrs was essentially
constant (± 5%). The local burial rates of 3He and 230Th on the other hand, varied by a factor of
5 over the past 450 and 200 kyr periods. These variations are consistent with sediment focusing,
or lateral advection, and to the deep currents responsible for particle transport. It was also shown
that some deep-sea sediment have higher 3He and 4He concentrations and low 3He/4He ratios,
consistent with an older crustal source containing larger amounts of nucleogenic and radiogenic
helium (10). Thus, variations in 3He/4He ratios can be attributed to the mixing of similar IDPs
but different terriginous sources.

One of the difficulties in assessing the true nature of 3He (e.g. terrestrial vs. extraterrestrial)
in bulk sediments is that, unlike fullerene, the ‘carrier’ of the ET helium in IDPs has not been
properly identified. Thus, it is crucial to look for the IDP-carrier in sediments to establish
whether or not 3He is truly a proxy of asteroidal or cometary impact or is simply a result of
sediment focusing (i.e. terrestrial). The identification of the IDP-carrier will provide important
constraints on the IDP flux and the types of material contributing to the overall helium signature
in deep-sea sediments.

In this work we will present data on the IDP-carrier and the associated trapped noble gas
compositions in some PTB sediments. We will also show that the abundances of IDPs are
strongly dependent upon sedimentation rates and lithology. Moreover, the IDP noble gas
signature can be uniquely de-coupled from fullerene demonstrating that two separate tracers are
present (direct flux of IDPs for 3He vs. giant impact for fullerene). The implications of our new
results support previous findings (1,2) that a large impact did accompany the mass extinction at
the PTB. In addition, the identification of a distinct IDP component in sediments redefines the
role of cosmic dust and impact events in the geologic record.

References: (1) L. Becker et al., Science 291, 1530 (2001); (2) L. Becker, R. J. Poreda and T. E.
Bunch Proc. of Nat. Acad. Sci 97, 2979 (2000); (3) D. Heymann et al., Science 256, 545 (1994);
(4) P. Harris, R. D. Vis and D. Heymann Earth & Planetary Science Letters 183, 355 (2000); (5)
Mukhopadhyay et al., Science 291, 1952 (2001); (6) Farley et al., Science 280, 1250 (1998); (7)
S. Mukhopadhyay and K. A. Farley Science 293, U1 (2001); (8) L. Becker and R. J. Poreda
Science 293, U3 (2001); (9) K. A. Farley and D. B. Patterson Nature 378, 600 (1995); (10)
Macantonio et al., GCA 62, 1535 (1998).


Jennifer G. Blank. Shock Physics Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Livermore
CA 94551 (

The discovery of relatively high abundances of organic compounds and amino acids in
meteorites, interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), and molecular clouds suggests that there are
relatively efficient mechanisms for producing fairly complicated organic compounds in space
[e.g., 1,2]. In many cases, the concentration of organic compounds in extraterrestrial materials
could exceed that which may have formed on the early Earth by several orders of magnitude [3].
This observation has led a number of investigators to propose that, while life itself may have
arisen on the Earth, the building blocks of life – poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and amino
acids – may have been delivered to Earth by cometary impact.

The survivability of organic compounds during a cometary crash remains the largest
uncertainty facing this theory. In order to estimate the survival rate of organic compounds
during impact, past investigators [e.g., 4,5] have modeled the shock pressures and temperatures
in various parts of a water-ice comet and predicted, qualitatively, the fraction of organic material
that might survive given this host environment and an estimate of the flux of impactors to the
planet. More recent work [6] has incorporated simplified rate expressions for the pyrolysis of
amino acids subjected to the impact temperatures in a cometary collision and suggests that a few
weight percent of the original organic payload could survive an impact at velocities up to 15
km/s. These initial estimates of payload survival are probably inaccurate, because the
breakdown rates of the amino acids were derived from experiments conducted at 1 bar. Treating
the destruction of organic compounds as a process solely of pyrolysis ignores the effect of
pressure on both the reaction mechanisms and kinetic pathways associated with breakdown.
While little is known of the influence of extreme high pressure on organic reactions, even less
direct information has been gleaned about organic reactions in the dynamic, high-pressure
regime relevant to impact processes.

My group conducts experiments in the laboratory to investigate shock-induced chemical

changes in organic liquids. The scope of this work is deceptively simple: we shock our liquids to
extreme temperatures and pressures, recover them, and characterize their resulting chemical
evolution as a function of pressure, temperature, and duration of the high-pressure impact pulse.
Here, we apply our methods to test (1) the viability of comets to transport organic compounds of
extraterrestrial origin to the Earth and (2) the potential for formation of biologically important
compounds using the energy released during large-scale impacts. We use aqueous solutions
doped with organic compounds as a comet proxy. Since initial demonstration of the feasibility
of these laboratory studies [7], we have expanded both our range of impact pressures and the
classes of compounds under investigation. In this study, we focus on 6 amino acids (Gly, Pro,
Phe, Amb, Lys, Nor), their survival and polymerization resulting from shock loading under
pressures relevant to a low-angle impact of a comet with a rocky planet.

We perform our laboratory experiments using a 6.5-m, two-stage light-gas gun with a 35-mm
barrel i.d. The gun consists of 3 major parts: a breech containing gunpowder, a pump tube filled
with a light gas (N2), and a barrel for guiding a high-velocity projectile to the target. The barrel
connects to a steel experiment tank, in which sits our sample. To simulate the impact, we fire the
gun and propel a metal impactor into collision with the stationary target: our liquid sample
encased in a stainless steel capsule. Capsule design (arguably the most challenging aspect of our
experiment) was guided loosely by that of previous recovery vessels [7-9], optimized to our
particular gun geometry, and allows for approximately 0.1 cm3 of aqueous solution (containing
1-10 mg of dissolved amino acids) to be contained inside. Impactor plates, fabricated from 1.5-

5.0 mm-thick planar stainless steel, copper, and tantalum sheets, hit the targets at velocities of
0.5-2.0 km/s, generating pressures within the samples of 11-33 GPa. Initial, 2D hydro-code
modeling of our experiments suggest we achieved uniform loading across most of the liquid for
times on the order of a millisecond. Peak pressures and temperatures lasted for ≈ 2-8
microseconds, and the duration of these peak conditions was directly proportional to the
thickness of the impactor plates. These laboratory conditions are comparable to those computed
for low-angle, comet-earth collisions, with the exception that the duration of the shock
compression was significantly shorter.

Following an experiment, the capsule is perforated using a home-made vampire valve, and
material is extracted by syringe. Post-experiment analysis by liquid chromatography/mass
spectrometry revealed large fractions of the initial amino acids survived exposure to the shock
events. More importantly, the dominant reaction products were all possible dipeptide and cyclic-
dipeptide pairings of the initial amino acids. Higher-order, linear peptides were also produced,
though to a dimished degree. We observed distinct differences in response among the amino
acids to pressure and temperature and shock pulse duration. Our results will be discussed in the
context of the role of exogenous delivery of biomolecules to the early Earth.

[1] E. Anders (1989) Nature, 342:255-257.
[2] W.M. Irvine (1998) Origins Life Evol. Biosphere, 28: 365-383.
[3] C.F. Chyba & C. Sagan (1992) Nature, 355:125-132.
[4] P.J. Thomas P. J. & L. Brookshaw (1996) in: Comets and the Origin and Evolution of
Life, P. J. Thomas et al. (eds.), 131-145.
[5] J.G. Blank & G. H. Miller (1998) in: 21st Intl. Symp. Shock Waves, A.F.P. Houwing et
al. (eds.),1467-1472.
[6] E. Pierazzo & C.F. Chyba (1999) Meteoritics Planet. Sci., 34, 909-918.
[7] J.G. Blank et al. (2001) Origins Life Evol. Biosphere, 31: 1-38.
[8] G.T. Gray III (2000) ASM Handbook 8: 1-9.
[9] L.L. Davis et al.(1995) Rev. Sci. Instr., 66:3321-3326.


S.A. Bowring, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary
Sciences, Bldg. 54-1126, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.

High-precision geochronology is essential for understanding mass extinctions, biotic

recoveries, and other major events in Earth history such as Neoproterozoic global glaciations and
the Cambrian radiation. Of particular importance for evaluating extinction mechanisms and
recoveries is a precise temporal framework for the distribution of fossils and chemostratigraphic
signals in the stratigraphic record before, during, and following an extinction event. A major
unanswered question is whether the six major Phanerozoic extinctions share a common
mechanism(s). However, of the six major extinctions, the tempo of only two (K/T and P/Tr) are
reasonably well constrained.

Critical tests of extinctions caused by global catastrophes such as bolide impacts or volcanic
eruptions involve establishing the contemporanity of paleontologically or chemostratigraphically
defined boundaries in both marine and terrestrial settings at maximum possible resolution (0.1 %
or better). Tests of models for volcanically influenced extinctions (e.g. SiberianTraps and
Permo/Triassic) must rely on precise chronometric constraints on both extinction horizons and
suspected volcanic centers. I will review the temporal constraints on the major extinction events.
At present, much confusion exists regarding the age, duration, and effects of the Siberian traps
and the Emishan basalts and age estimates vary by 6-8 Ma.

Geochronological tools which are the most useful for resolving the tempo of extinction
events are U-Pb (zircon) and 40Ar/39Ar (feldspar,biotite, hornblende). Ar-Ar geochronology is
a relative dating technique that relies on referencing the age of an unknown sample to a standard.
In contrast, U-Pb zircon geochronology exploits two independent decay schemes (238U-206Pb
and 235U-207Pb) which allows for the evaluation of closed-system behavior. However due to
uncertainties in decay constants for K and the use of different flux monitors (e.g. Renne et. al;,
1998;1999; Schmitz and Bowring, 2001) comparisons of dates using the two systems at the
1000-500K year level is impossible. Both U-Pb zircon geochronology and Ar-Ar geochronology
can be complicated by open-system behavior such as complex daughter-product loss and
inheritance (e.g. Bowring et al 1998; Mundil et al., 2000). In particular, in many pyroclastic
eruptions significant quantities of slightly older volcanic material can be incorporated into the
eruption column giving rise to a complex population of phenocrysts. In addition, zircons in
silicic magma chambers may have non-negligible residence times prior to eruption. In principle,
Ar-Ar geochronology could be used to more precisely determine the time differential between
closely spaced ash-beds than U-Pb because of the relative ease in taking a weighted mean of
hundreds of analyses per ash-bed. However, this approach has not been widely applied. In any
case the geochronological approach that must be followed to constrain extinction events using
either technique is time and labor intensive: analysis of many ash-beds in stratigraphic order
from multiple sections, multiple samples from the same horizon, and many minerals from each
ash-bed. With this approach the tempo of mass extinctions, recoveries, and geological events
throughout the Phanerozoic can be determined with high-precision and help constrain the
mechanisms of extinction.

References: [1] Renne, P.R., et al. (1998) Science 282, 1840-1841. [2] Renne, P.R. et al. (1998)
Chem. Geol. 145, 117-152. [3] Schmitz, M.D. and Bowring, S.A. (2001) Geochim Cosmochim
Acta 65 (15): 2571-2587. [4] Bowring , S.A. et al. (1998) Science 284, 1039-1045. [5] Mundil,
R. etal. (2001) Earth Planet Sci Lett 187 (1-2): 131-145 .


C.S. Cockell, British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge. CB3 0ET.
UK. (

Impact craters contain ecosystems that are often very different from the ecosystems that
surround them. On Earth over 150 impact craters have been identified in a wide diversity of
biomes. All natural events that can cause localized disruption of ecosystems have quite distinct
patterns of recovery. Impact events are unique in that they are the only extraterrestrial
mechanism capable of disrupting an ecosystem locally in space and time. Thus, elucidating the
chronological sequence of change at the sites of impacts is of ecological interest. Three phases of
recovery are suggested following impact events (Cockell and Lee, in press). The Phase of
Thermal Biology, a phase associated with the localized, ephemeral thermal anomaly generated
by an impact event. The Phase of Impact Succession and Climax, a phase marked by multiple
primary and secondary succession events both in the aquatic realm (impact crater-lakes) and
terrestrial realm (colonization of paleolacustrine deposits and impact-generated substrata) that
are followed by periods of climax ecology. In the case of large-scale impact events (>104 Mt),
this latter phase may also be influenced by successional changes in the global environment.
Finally, during the Phase of Ecological Assimilation, the disappearance of the surface geological
expression of an impact structure results in a concomitant loss of ecological distinctiveness. In
extreme cases, the impact structure is buried. Impact succession displays similarities and
differences to succession following other agents of ecological disturbance, particularly

I will describe work undertaken at the Haughton impact structure in the Canadian High
Arctic and at the Tswaing impact crater in South Africa. The research focuses on how the
geological units associated with the impact structures (such as breccia, impact-shocked blocks
etc.) influence the biological colonisation of the sites. In the case of Haughton, we find that the
mechanisms of recolonization of the impact breccia melt-sheet bear resemblances to patterns of
recolonization of volcanic substrates that have been observed directly after recent volcanic
eruptions (Cockell et al., 2001a). In the case of impact shocked target rocks, we have observed
that shock metamorphosis reduces the density of the rock and increases porosity, thereby
providing a habitat for microbial invasion by cyanobacteria, specifically Chroococcidiopsis sp.

The research at Tswaing involved a study of the crater to try to quantitatively estimate the
subsurface biomolecular signature left in the crater by microbial communities (Cockell et al.,
2001b). We demonstrated the potential for an enormous signature (>50,000 metric tons) of
recalcitrant UV-screening biomolecules such as carotenoids and scytonemin left by the
cyanobacterial communities. This work was intended to demonstrate that if one examined
martian impact craters that has aqueous environments, even simple craters with diameters less
than 1 km might be expected to have biological signatures if there was any life at all on Mars.
The absence of any signature might be a good indication that such habitats were never colonized.
The work dovetailed with an on-going study with Nadine Barlow to quantify impact excavation
depths on Mars for various crater sizes and to quantify the depths that are necessary to prospect
for subsurface signatures of biological activity based on terrestrial craters with a corresponding

estimation of the required observed crater diameters needed to prospect to these depths (Cockell
and Barlow, 2001).

Understanding the patterns of post-impact colonization and succession inside a crater are
important for understanding how impact events can influence local catastrophic change in
ecosystems and how impact craters can act as unique cradles for the development of novel
ecosystems during the process of recovery. These observations have astrobiological implications.


Cockell, C.S., Lee, P., Schuerguer, A., Hidalgo, L., Jones, J., Stokes, D. 2001a. Microbiology
and vegetation of micro-oases and polar desert, Haughton Impact Crater, Devon Island,
Canadian High Arctic. Arctic, Alpine and Antarctic Research, 33, 306-318.
Cockell, C.S., Brandt, D., Hand, K., Lee, P. 2001b Microbial mats in the Tswaing impact crater,
South Africa – Results of a South African exobiology expedition and implications for the
search for biological molecules on Mars. LPSC Abstracts.
Cockell, C.S. and Barlow, N. 2001. Impact excavation and the search for subsurface life on
Mars. Icarus (in press).
Cockell, C.S. and Lee, P. 2001. The biology of impact craters - a review. Biological Reviews (in


Vincent Courtillot Moore Scholar (on leave from University Paris 7 and IPG) Division of
Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125,

Impacts, flood basalts, but also sea-level changes, anoxic events, and even mechanisms
related only to biological population dynamics are considered as possibles agents of mass
extinction. I will review recent progress in dating continental flood basalts and show that in an
increasing number of cases (say between 5 and 10, thus not all) correlation with a mass
extinction, or/and a major anoxic event (or thermal event), sometimes without mass extinction, is
compatible with the most accurate data:

Ethiopian - lower/upper Oligocene, Greenland - late Paleocene thermal maximum, Deccan -

K/T, Carribean and Madagascar - Cenomanian/Turonian, Ontong/Java - Barremian/Aptian,
Parana - end of Jurassic (???), Karoo - early Toarcian, Central Atlantic Magmatic Province - end
of Triassic, Siberian traps - Permo/Triassic, Emeishan - end-Guadalupian.

The traps responsible for the 360 million year Frasnian-Famennian extinction may have been
found, completing the record now back to the Devonian.

In contrast, the KT impact remains the only well documented case and many impacts do not
correlate with a mass extinction.

That both impacts and volcanism occurred and correlate with some mass extinctions now
seems established, though many aspects remain to be tested (see W. Alvarez abstract which
raises important points on falsifiability). One can now ask what is the share of impact versus
Deccan in the KT extinction, and how much the impact would have achieved alone without the
flood basalt. Sea level variations will also be considered and can rather readily be associated with
flood basalts, suggesting (at least to me) that internal pulsations of Earth geodynamics and plate
tectonics exert the principal but certainly not the only) control on the few, brief episodes when
"survival of the fittest" was replaced by "survival of the luckiest".


Enrique DÍAZ-MARTÍNEZ. Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Crtra. Ajalvir km 4,

28850 Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid, SPAIN <>

The rate at which the surface of Earth is being cratered can be measured by analysing the size
and age of craters found on certain stable areas. Assumptions on the erosion rate, type of
impactor, target rock properties, etc., can be accounted for, but the crucial consideration is
whether each structure is or is not impact-related. Research on meteorite impacts and impact
craters currently underway at the new Spanish Astrobiology Center includes the review of the
regional geological record. A thorough review of the existing evidence has demonstrated how
vulnerable is the cathalog obtained from the record, as new techniques are used in hypothesis
testing and the search for new potential sites. The few Spanish case examples represent the
variety of possibilities in the assessment of impact craters and shock-metamorphosed rocks: one
that now is but previously was not considered an impactite (El Gasco pumice: established in
1953 as volcanic, and now considered as impact-related), one that now is not but previously was
considered an impact crater (Azuara structure: established in 1985 as impact-related, and now
withdrawn from databases), and one that was and still is considered a possibility (Hervías
structure: established in 1990 and still unconfirmed as impact-related).

The reliability of the interpretations depends on the unequivocal character of the criteria used
in the determination of shock metamorphism. This includes the use of electron microbeam
techniques (SEM, EDXRA, EPMA), detailed geochemistry of PGEs and Os isotopes (ICP-MS,
neutron activation), TEM identification of PDFs, etc. Because most of these techniques are not
readily available to researchers in many countries, it is only through scientific cooperation that
the impact hypothesis can be tested, including joint cooperative research with access to the
specific laboratory techniques. Some impact events have been proposed and accepted based only
on equivocal evidence which may have alternative interpretations. Applications of impact
research in astrobiology include estimates of cratering rates, effects on atmosphere (volume,
composition, evolution), survivability of microorganisms (meteorite and target), mass extinctions
and climate change, and more. It is therefore important to confirm with unequivocal evidence
each impact event that is proposed, before it is included in the databases to be used in estimates
and calculations.


Douglas H. Erwin. Department of Paleobiology, MRC-121, Smithsonian Institution,

Washington, DC 20560 (

Two severe mass extinctions brought the Paleozoic to a close: one at the end of the
Guadalupian, or Middle Permian (ca. 260 Ma) and a second at the close of the Changhsingian
Stage (251.6 Ma). These were the most severe extinctions of the Phanerozoic and triggered an
extensive reorganization of marine ecosystems and less pervasive changes in terrestrial
ecosystems. The marine extinctions were selective, with epifaunal, suspension feeders more
heavily effected than other clades, although significant variations occurred even within these
clades. Relatively little is known about the first extinction pulse: the marine extinction was
severe although some estimates appear to have been exaggerated by sampling effects, and the
extinction appears to correspond with a major marine regression. Whether a mass extinction
occurred at the same time among terrestrial organisms remains unclear, in part due to difficulties
in correlating between marine and terrestrial sections. At this point relatively few possible causes
can be excluded from consideration. In south China the Changhsingian marine extinction is
nearly catastrophic, occurring in less than 500 ky. (Bowring et al., 1998; Jin et al., 2000). U/Pb
single crystal zircon dating of at least two sections other than Meishan with tight biostratigraphic
correlation confirm the U/Pb dates for the Meishan section. On land, vertebrates, plants and
insects all experienced major extinctions. The Changhsingian event coincides with a drop of
13C from about +2 to -2 per mil in both marine and terrestrial sections (although with some
evidence of a latitudinal gradient in the isotopic shift: Krull, et al., 2000); shifts in sulfur and
strontium isotopes; with the eruption of the massive Siberian continental flood basalts; and with
evidence of deep and shallow-water marine anoxia. Additionally, there is growing evidence
from Russia, Australia and possibly South Africa for rapid global warming at the boundary and
into the earliest Triassic. The increase in fungal spores, interpreted as evidence of disruption of
terrestrial ecosystems, and onset of deep-water anoxia both begin before any evidence of
disruption of shallow marine ecosystems.

The causes of the great end-Permian mass extinction must be consistent with this evidence.
Although the cause of the extinction events remain unclear, significant advances have been made
in the past decade, and a series of firm constraints on speculation have been established (Erwin,
Bowring and Jin, 2002). Leading contenders for the cause are the climatic effects, including acid
rain and global warming from the eruption of the Siberian flood basalts; marine anoxia or carbon
dioxide poisoning; or an extra-terrestrial impact. Although no conclusive evidence for extra-
terrestrial impact has been produced, much of the available data is consistent with such a
mechanism. The principle pieces of evidence that are not consistent with an impact mechanism
are: the early onset of deep water anoxia, the early onset of the fungal spike (at least 500 ky.
before the marine extinction in S. China) and possibly the duration of the vertebrate extinctions
in the Karoo of South Africa. There has been extensive speculation that the Siberian flood
basalts may have been impact-induced. Beyond the general problems with such a hypothesis
(see Melosh abstract) the Siberian flood basalts include four identified centers spread over at
least 1000 km. Any impactor sufficient to trigger massive flood basalts would have necessarily
produced impact evidence far more extensive than that seen at the KT boundary. The most

intriguing possibility is that the greatest mass extinction of the Phanerozoic left signals very
similar to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction but was produced by entirely earth-bound
processes. If true, this would tell us much more about the nature of ecosystems and how they fail
than would identification of another impact event.

Bowring, S. A., D. H. Erwin, Y.G., Jin, M. W. Martin, K. Davidek, and W. Wang. 1998.
Geochronological constraints on the end-Permian mass extinction. Science 280:1039-1045.
Erwin, D. H., Bowring, S. A., and Jin, Y. G. 2002. The End-Permian Mass Extinctions. In:
Catastrophic Events and Mass Extinctions: Impacts and Beyond. C. Koeberl and K. G.
MacLeod, eds. Geological Society of America Special Paper
Jin, Y. G., Y. Wang, W. Wang, Q. H. Shang, C. Q. Cao, and D. H. Erwin. 2000. Pattern of
Marine mass extinction near the Permian-Triassic boundary in South China. Science
Krull, E.S., Retallack, G.J., Campbell, H.J., and Lyon, G.L., 2000, 13Corg chemostratigraphy of
the Permian-Triassic boundary in the Maitai Group, New Zealand: evidence for high-
latitudinal methane release: New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, 43:21-32.


K.A. Farley1, S. Mukhopadhyay1, and A. Montanari2. 1Division of Geological and Planetary

Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125 U.S.A. 2Ossoveratorio
Geologico do Coldigioco, I-62020 Frontale di Apiro, ITALY

Cosmochemical and planetary differentiation processes have caused the Earth to be

extremely depleted in the non-radiogenic isotope 3He compared to extraterrestrial bodies, and as
a consequence the presence of even tiny amounts of extraterrestrial matter can be detected in
seafloor sediments. Measurements made almost 40 years ago confirm the presence of
extraterrestrial 3He, and more recent work indicates that the majority of this helium is derived
from the accumulation of interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) in the sediments. Only the smallest
of IDPs (perhaps a few to a few tens of microns in diameter) can escape intense atmospheric
heating and so retain He; in contrast larger IDPs and bolides are so intensely heated that they
lose their He, leaving no obvious 3He record in the sediments. Sediments thus provide a potential
archive of IDP accretion over geologic time.

IDPs are thought to derive from asteroid collisions and from active comets, in presently
unknown proportions. Because the solar system residence time of IDPs (< 105 yrs) is short
compared to the recurrence period of significant dust producing events (major asteroid collisions,
comet showers), the sedimentary 3He record provides a means to identify when and how often
such events occur. For example, a 3 Myr episode of enhanced 3He accretion correlated with two
large impact events in the Late Eocene (Popigai, Chesapeake Bay) may be the signature of a
shower of long period comets, several of which struck Earth (Farley et al., 1998).

Because 3He is sensitive to the delivery of IDPs rather than large bolides, it is an excellent
complement to other impact indicators such as platinum group metals, shocked quartz, etc. Given
the paucity of unambiguous evidence for impacts in the geologic record, IDP-hosted 3He may
provide a useful new method for identifying and evaluating periods of probable extraterrestrial
impacts, impact recurrence intervals and possible mechanisms, and their role in terrestrial
processes. For example, many of the major extinction boundaries of the Mesozoic have at one
time or another been attributed to impact events, yet no compelling evidence exists to confirm
these proposals. These boundaries are a current focus of our research. To date, our limited
analyses reveal little or no extraterrestrial 3He in association with the Permian-Triassic (250 Ma),
Triassic-Jurassic (208 Ma) and Jurassic-Cretaceous (144 Ma) boundaries. At face value these
observations argue against a comet-shower like event at any of these boundaries.

It is clear from several different studies that IDP-hosted 3He survives diffusional and
diagenetic loss for at least 75 Myr in sediments. But how far back can the record be taken? Can
our null results be attributed to 3He loss rather than absence of substantial extraterrestrial events?
Analyses of the 450 Myr old Kinnekule limestone reveal the presence of extraterrestrial 3He and
so suggest long-term He preservation, but this limestone is atypical in that it hosts an
extraordinary abundance of fossil meteorites. Laboratory step-heating experiments designed to
establish He diffusivity under natural conditions suggest only partial loss of He through the
Mesozoic, but the uncertainties in such measurements are large. Systematic experiments are in
progress to establish if and when extreme He loss becomes apparent.

Kathleen Grey, 2Malcolm R. Walter, and 3Clive R. Calver. 1Geological Survey of Western
Australia, 100 Plain Street, East Perth, Western Australia, 6004, 2Australian Centre for
Astrobiology, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia 2109, 3Mineral Resources Tasmania, PO
Box 56, Rosny Park, Tasmania, Australia 7018.

The c.580 Ma Acraman structure is one of the ten largest and best-documented impact
structures in the geological record and meets all recognition criteria for large bolide impacts. The
impact site (Lake Acraman, Gawler Craton, South Australia) displays typical cratering
morphology, geophysical characteristics, shock metamorphic features (devitrified melt particles,
shatter cones, and shocked quartz), and is associated with microspherules, an iridium anomaly,
evidence of a tsunami, and a debris layer. A collapse crater ~90 km in diameter indicates impact
by a 4.8 km-diameter bolide. The associated ejecta layer is known from 12 outcrops >200 km E
of the impact site, in drillhole WWD1 near Lake Torrens, and from drillholes >500 km W of the
impact structure (Lake Maurice West 1, Observatory Hill 1, and as redeposited ejecta in Munta
1). The ejecta blanket is consistent in extent with patterns for 80-90 km diameter lunar craters
such as Tycho and Copernicus.

The ejecta horizon is a significant synchronous marker layer that provides an appropriate
datum for plotting relative distributions of planktonic acritarch species observed during
biostratigraphic studies of the terminal Proterozoic of Australia. As data compilation progressed,
a remarkable coincidence between the first appearance of the acanthomorphs (spiny acritarchs)
after the Marinoan glaciation, a negative δ15Corg excursion, and the Acraman impact ejecta layer
became apparent. The observed biotic changes are radical. An older leiosphere-dominated
palynoflora is abruptly succeeded by a complex acanthomorph-dominated palynoflora. There is a
rapid increase in abundance, size, morphological complexity, and taxonomic diversity. These
changes indicate a major evolutionary radiation in the green algae. The actual or presumed
position of the transition matches a negative δ 13Corg excursion that coincides with the Acraman
impact layer, and indicates a rapid fall in organic productivity followed by a steady rise.
Preliminary results suggest the Ediacarian acritarch diversification may be a recovery event
following a bolide impact, which may also have triggered other significant biotic changes.

Whether the events are related or fortuitous requires further investigation. Evidence for a
relationship between the impact event and the observed changes in acritarch assemblages is still
circumstantial, but the demonstrated large bolide impact supplies a plausible explanation for
dramatic biotic changes that are otherwise difficult to explain.

Walter, M. R., Veevers, J. J., Calver, C. R., Gorjan, P. & Hill, A. C. Dating the 840–544 Ma
Neoproterozoic interval by isotopes of strontium, carbon, and sulfur in seawater, and some
interpretative models. Precambrian Res. 100, 371–433 (2000).
Grey, K. Ediacarian palynology of Australia. Memoirs of the Australian Association of
Palaeontologists (in press).

Calver, C. R. Isotope stratigraphy of the Ediacarian (Neoproterozoic III) of the Adelaide Rift
Complex, South Australia, and the overprint of water column stratification. Precambrian
Res. 100, 121–150 (2000).
Calver, C. R. & Lindsay, J. F. Ediacarian sequence and isotope stratigraphy of the Officer Basin,
South Australia. Austral. J. Earth Sci. 45, 513–532 (1998).
Gostin, V. A., Haines, P. W., Jenkins, R. J. F., Compston, W. & Williams, I. S. Impact ejecta
horizon within late Precambrian shales, Adelaide Geosyncline, South Australia. Science 233,
198–200 (1986).
Gostin, V. A., Keays, R. R. & Wallace, M. W. Iridium anomaly from the Acraman impact ejecta
horizon: impacts can produce sedimentary iridium peaks. Nature 340, 542–544 (1989).
Wallace, M. W., Gostin, V. A. & Keays, R. R. Discovery of the Acraman impact ejecta blanket
in the Officer Basin and its stratigraphic significance. Austral. J. Earth Sci. 36, 585–587
Wallace, M. W., Gostin, V. A. & Keays, R. R. Acraman impact ejecta and host shales – evidence
for low-temperature mobilization of iridium and other platinoids. Geology 18, 132–135
Wallace, M. W., Gostin, V. A. & Keays, R. R. Spherules and shard-like clasts from the Late
Proterozoic Acraman impact ejecta horizon, South Australia. Meteoritics 25, 161–165
Wallace, M. W., Gostin, V. A. & Keays, R. R. Sedimentology of the Neoproterozoic Acraman
impact-ejecta horizon, South Australia. AGSO J. Austral. Geol. Geophys. 16, 443–451
Williams, G. E. The Acraman impact structure: source of ejecta in late Precambrian shales,
South Australia. Science 233, 200–203 (1986).
Williams, G. E. Acraman, South Australia: Australia’s largest meteorite impact structure. Proc.
R. Soc. Vic. 106, 105–127 (1994).
Williams, G. E., Schmidt, P. W. & Boyd, D. M. Magnetic signature and morphology of the
Acraman impact structure, South Australia. AGSO J. Austral. Geol. Geophys. 16, 431–442


Joseph L. Kirschvink, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of

Technology, Pasadena CA 91125, USA. (

Recent paleomagnetic studies on the Martian meteorite ALH84001 have shown that this rock
traveled from Mars to Earth with an internal temperature entirely below 40ºC. Dynamical
studies indicate that the transfer of rocks from Mars to Earth (and to a limited extent, vice versa)
can proceed on a biologically-short time scale, making it likely that organic hitchhikers have
traveled between these planets many times during the history of the Solar system. These results
demand a re-evaluation of the long-held assumption that terrestrial life first evolved on Earth.

I will review first the current controversies about what we do and do not know about the
direct fossil record of life in the Solar System, including early Archean microfossils and
stromatolites from Australia and putative magnetofossils in the ALH84001 meteorite. Finally, I
will try to compare the probable environments of the early Earth with that of early Mars in order
to evaluate which of these two bodies, during the first half-billion years of the solar system,
might have produced an environment most suitable for the origin of life and the evolution of
biochemical electron transport chains based on redox chemistry.


Christian Koeberl, Institute of Geochemistry, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, A-1090

Vienna, Austria

The program was launched in 1998 for a period of five years. Funding organizations from
the following countries are participating in the program: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France,
Germany, Hungary, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic and the United
Kingdom. In 2000, Spain and Russia joined the IMPACT program. With the additional funding,
the annual budget amounts to 586 kFF. In 2001, Estonia joined as well.

The ESF Impact program aims at understanding meteorite impact processes and their effects
on the Earth System, including environmental, biological, climatic and geological changes, and
consequences for the biodiversity of ecosystems and global evolution of the planet. Three main
areas, each coupled with and dependent on the others and following a time sequence, can be
identified: i) Understanding the physical and chemical constraints of the impact process, ii)
documenting the mechanism of transfer of the enormous energy released during an impact event
to the atmo-, hydro-, bio-, and geosphere, - this is the least understood part in the chain that may
link impact events with environmental changes - and iii) studying the short- and long-term
effects on the environment. A main goal of the program is the development and expansion of
close cooperation between European (and other) scientists working in the field of impact studies.

The main activities of the program are: organization of workshops, support of international
scientific exchanges through grants to young scientists (the "Mobility Grants" scheme),
development of materials for teaching impact studies at undergraduate and graduate levels, and a
short course program aimed at introducing student and recent graduates to impact processes and
their role in planetary evolution. One workshop on “Impacts and the Early Earth” was held in
December 1998 in Cambridge, UK. Two workshops were held in each, 1999 and 2000. Two
workshops were held in 2001 at the extreme southern and northern parts of the continent. From
May 19-25, 2001, a workshop on “Impact Markers in the Stratigraphic Record” was held in
Grenada, Spain, combined with a field trip to the famous nearby Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary
locations of Caravaca and Agost. Another workshop took place from Aug. 29 – Sept. 3, 2001 in
Svalbard (Spitsbergen), Norway, on “Submarine craters and ejecta crater correlations”. A special
session on “Icy Impacts and Icy Targets” was included to provide a link with the planetary
science community. Workshops are typically attended by about 50 to 80 researchers from all
over the world, but mainly from Europe.

For the year 2002, two further workshops are planned. Planning for one of them, on “Impact
Tectonism”, has progressed very well. The meeting will be held at the large Siljan impact
structure, in Mora, Sweden, 31 May – 3 June 2002, and will include field excursions. A second
workshop, concentrating on the link between the geosciences and astronomy communities, will
be held in October 2002 in the Czech Republic. The IMPACT program will be extended until
mid-2003 (as program activities only started in the fall of 1998). Thus, a final (10th) workshop on
“The Biology of Impact Craters” is planned for April 2003 in Cambridge, UK.

Since 1999 we have been conducting annual short courses on "Impact Stratigraphy" at the
Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco (OGC) near Ancona in Italy. The third such course was
held in May 2001. The course was attended by 16 students from all over Europe. These courses
have been an enormous success. Another short course was held in November of 2000 at the Ries
crater (Germany) on shock metamorphism. Two other short courses on "The Geophysics of
Impact Structures", and “Mathematical Modelling of Impact Events” are still planned, but the
dates have not yet been set. These courses will most likely take place in Scandinavia and Russia,
respectively. The program maintains a web page and an electronic discussion list (see In addition, several young European scientists have benefited from
the “Mobility Grant” scheme of the IMPACT program, which allows them to obtain support for
short-time visits at other institutions for joint research.

One of the characteristics of the program is that all activities should be documented by
publications, including the scientific proceedings of each of the workshops, as well as short
course contents. The first two volumes have been published in 2000 in the series “Lecture Notes
in Earth Sciences”, Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg-Berlin (Gilmour and Koeberl, Impact and the
Early Earth, LNES v. 91; Montanari and Koeberl, Impact Stratigraphy LNES v. 93). In 2001,
Springer Verlag agreed to launch a new book series entitled “Impact Studies”, which will carry
publications of the IMPACT program, but is open for other impact-related books and edited
volumes as well. The chairman of the IMPACT program was asked to serve as the editor of the
new series. The first volume of this series will be the proceedings of the ESF IMPACT meeting
in Quillan, France (E. Buffetaut and C. Koeberl, eds., Geological and Biological Effects of
Impact Events; Springer Verlag, Heidelberg-Berlin, ISBN 3-540-42286-2; to be related at the
end of 2001). The next volumes will be the proceedings of the 2000 IMPACT meeting in
Finland, on Impacts in Precambrian Shields, edited by J. Plado and L. Pesonen; the camera-ready
manuscript will be sent to Springer at the end of 2001 for publication in 2002. The proceedings
of the international conference on “Catastrophic Events and Mass Extinctions: Impacts and
Beyond”, which was held in Vienna, Austria, in July 2000 and which was co-sponsored by the
IMPACT program, will appear as Geological Society of America Special Paper (GSA-SP) no.
356 in March 2002. This volume, edited by C. Koeberl and K.G. MacLeod, carries 56 individual
papers, making it the largest of any of the “Snowbird” series books, which were all published by

Contacts to the U.S. impact community have shown that there still is no similar program or
activity in the U.S. that would make collaboration between the U.S. and Europe in this field
easier. Details on the IMPACT program can be found at the IMPACT program website


David A. Kring. Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Department of Planetary Sciences, University
of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, U.S.A.

The most important biologic effects of an impact event, including extinction, are produced by
impact-generated environmental changes. Depending on the energy involved in the impact
event, the environmental changes can be local, regional, and/or global. The best studied case
involves the Chicxulub impact event, 65 million years ago, which has been linked to the
Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) mass extinction event that claimed ~47% of the genera and 76 ± 5 %
of the species living at that time (Jablonski, 1991). This effectively ended the Mesozoic Era and
the subsequent radiation ushered in our own era.

For the Chicxulub impact event to have caused any extinctions, the environmental changes
had to extend throughout the habitat range of an organism and overwhelm its ability to adapt. In
the case of regional environmental effects, this means the changes had to exceed the migratory
capacity of a species or endure longer than its dormant capacity. In the case of global
environmental effects, the changes had to be rapid relative to the time scale of evolutionary
adaptation or last longer than the dormant capacity of a species.

Individual species have different migratory capacities, dormant capacities, and evolutionary
time scales, so it is not surprising that the level of extinction was not homogeneous among
different groups of organisms. However, the heterogeneity in the fossil record also reflects other
parameters. One of the most important is a species’ relationship to its ecosystem, because the
loss of life that occurred 65 million years ago did not involve a few isolated organisms, but rather
caused the collapse of entire ecosystems throughout the world.

The link between impact cratering processes and the biologic evolution of the Earth is
relatively new and we are still trying to understand the implications of this revelation. The link
between impact cratering and biologic evolution has led to detailed studies of the Chicxulub
impact event and its environmental effects (e.g., see Kring, 1993, 2000, and Pierazzo et al., this
volume, for reviews). It has also generated studies of other known impact events, albeit in less
detail, at over a dozen locations on Earth (e.g., Heissig, 1986; Aubry et al., 1990; Kring et al.,
1996; Kring, 1997) in an effort to determine the magnitude of environmental changes needed to
cause biologic consequences.

In general, it is recognized that the largest or most energetic impact events are likely to
produce the most severe environmental changes. This has led to a series of studies examining
the environmental effects of hypothetical impact events of various sizes (e.g., see Toon et al.,
1997, for a review). However, this approach is incomplete, because the environmental
consequences of an impact event depend on far more parameters than just the energy of the

For example, one of the environmental consequences of the Chicxulub impact event is a large
perturbation in the carbon cycle, produced in part by the vaporization of carbonate in target

lithologies, vaporization of carbon-bearing materials in the projectile, and post-impact wildfires,
all of which injected >104 GT CO2, 103 GT CO, 102 CH4 into the atmosphere (e.g., Pierazzo et
al., 1998; Kring and Durda, 2001). The amounts of these climatically active gases generated by
the Chicxulub impact event are quite large compared to the perturbations being caused today by
fossil fuel burning (5.4 ± 0.5 GT/yr; Dixon et al., 1994) and likely had a role in the subsequent
mass extinction event. The environmental consequences, however, of a similarly sized impact
event in the Archean, when ambient atmospheric pCO2 was much greater and stands of
vegetation that could be consumed by fire did not exist, would be much different. That is, the
environmental outcome of the impact event and subsequent biologic effects are a function of
Earth’s ambient conditions, not just the energy of the impact event.

A broader goal, therefore, is to determine the range of environmental perturbations for several
other relevant parameters, including impactor composition, target composition, target location
(e.g., ocean vs. continental shelf vs. a mid-continent terrain), troposphere composition,
stratosphere composition, the geographic positions of continents, and the areal fraction of the
Earth covered by continents vs. areal fractions of the Earth covered by ice and liquid water.
Each of these issues will be explored in this chapter in an effort to understand the relative
importance of different impact-generated environmental perturbations as a function of ambient
conditions on Earth. Special attention will be given to those intervals in time when other mass
extinctions have been identified in the fossil record (Late Ordovician, Late Devonian, Permian-
Triassic boundary, and Triassic-Jurassic boundary) and when particularly large impact events are
known to have occurred (e.g., Vredefort, Sudbury, and Manicouagan).

Aubry, M.-P., F.M. Gradstein, and L.F. Jansa, 1990, The late early Eocene Montagnais bolide:
No impact on biotic diversity, Micropaleontology 36, 164-172.
Dixon, R.K., S. Brown, R.A. Houghton, A.M. Solomon, M.C. Trexler, and J. Wisniewski, 1994,
Carbon pools and flux of global ecosystems, Science 263, 185-190.
Heissig, K., 1986, No effect of the Ries impact event on the local mammal fauna, Modern
Geology 10, 171-179.
Jablonski, D., 1991, Extinctions: A paleontological perspective, Science 253, 754-757.
Kring, D.A., 1993, The Chicxulub impact event and possible causes of K/T boundary
extinctions, in Proc. First Annual Symp. of Fossils of Arizona, D. Boaz and M. Dornan
(eds.), Mesa Southwest Museum and Southwest Paleontological Society, Mesa (Arizona), pp.
Kring, D.A., 1997, Air blast produced by the Meteor Crater impact event and a reconstruction of
the affected environment, Meteoritics Planet. Sci. 32, 517-530.
Kring, D.A., 2000, Impact events and their effect on the origin, evolution, and distribution of
life, GSA Today 10, no. 8, 1-7.
Kring, D.A. and D.D. Durda, 2001, The distribution of wildfires ignited by high-energy ejecta
from the Chicxulub impact event, Lunar Planet. Sci. XXXII, Abstract #1447, Lunar and
Planetary Institute, Houston (CD-ROM).
Kring, D.A., H.J. Melosh, and D.M. Hunten, 1996, Impact-induced perturbations of atmospheric
sulfur, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 140, 201-212.
Pierazzo, E., this volume.

Pierazzo, E., D.A. Kring, H.J. Melosh, 1998, Hydrocode simulation of the Chicxulub impact
event and the production of climatically active gases, J. Geophys. Res. 103, 28607-28625.
Toon, O.B., K. Zahnle, D. Morrison, R.P. Turco, and C. Covey, 1997, Environmental
perturbations caused by the impacts of asteroids and comets, Rev. Geophys. 35, 41-78.


Frank T. Kyte. Center for Astrobiology, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA,
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1567 (

An important part of the history of impacts on Earth, and their influence on the terrestrial
environment and biotic evolution, is the provenance of the impacting bolides. This will reflect
the history of the large-body object flux in the inner solar system. The physical and chemical
properties of projectiles, as well as their orbital evolution, has influenced the dynamics and the
relative timing of impact events. Possible impact scenarios include random impacts by individual
asteroids or comets, or clusters of impacts due to major collisions in the asteroid or Kuiper belts,
or large perturbations of the Oort cloud of comets. Over the last several years, a combination of
trace element, isotopic, and petrologic data have yielded significant insights into this impact

The trace element chemistry of sediments, in particular the concentration of siderophiles (e.g.,
Ir), is a useful tool to detect impacts (e.g., [1,2]) and provides supporting evidence for suspected
impact deposits (e.g., [3,4]) However, siderophiles are not especially useful in distinguishing
between types of projectiles (e.g., [5]). Interelement abundances of PGEs can distinguish a
chondritic signature, but since most asteroids, and probably all comets are chondritic, these data
do little to distinguish between chondritic source materials. Perhaps the most significant
chemical argument used to constrain provenance, is that the total amount of Ir in the global
Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) boundary ejecta layer is considerably less than that expected by a low-
velocity, 10 km asteroid impact [6] and is most consistent with the impact of a high-velocity,
low-Ir comet. Alternatively, much of the Ir may have been buried in the Chicxulub crater and/or
ejected to escape velocity.

Isotopic systems of He and Cr provide insights into the impact record. 3He concentrations in
sediments can measure of the flux of interplanetary dust [7]. Increased flux of 3He in late Eocene
sediments is evidence of a comet shower [8], but no large increase in 3He at the KT boundary
argues against a comet shower at 65 Ma [9]. Reports of 3He in fullerenes from KT boundary [10]
and Permian-Triassic (PT) boundary sediments [11] have been cited as evidence of carbonaceous
chondrite materials in both deposits. However, this is inconsistent with Ir (e.g., [12]) and 3He
concentrations [13] measured in similar samples from the PT boundary. Independent
confirmation of the positive results will be necessary to establish a PT impact event. The Cr-
isotopic system can distinguish between different solar system objects, (e.g., terrestrial, martian,
asteroidal [14-16]). This system provided the first unequivocal isotopic evidence of an
extraterrestrial component in KT boundary sediments [17] and in early Archean spherule beds
from the Barberton Greenstone Belt [18-19]. In each of these cases, Cr-isotope abundances are
similar to those measured in carbonaceous chondrites. Whether these data allow for a cometary
source or not is unknown.

Another important source of information for projectile provenance is actual meteoritic

materials that survive impacts or other accretionary events. Only a few such studies exist.
Meteorites in ejecta from the late Pliocene impact of the km-sized Eltanin asteroid [20-21]
provided evidence that unmelted meteorites can survive hypervelocity impact. These meteorites

are from a differentiated, basaltic object so the Eltanin asteroid was probably from the inner
regions of the asteroid belt. A 2.5 mm fossil meteorite from a North Pacific KT boundary site
(LL44-GPC3; [22]) is likely from a carbonaceous chondrite that experienced aqueous alteration
on its parent body. This is consistent with the Cr-isotopic composition of KT sediments [17] and
may indicate an asteroid impact at the KT. Smaller (~200 µm) particles from a nearby KT site
(DSDP 577) are also possible KT meteorite fragments [23] and recent work at site 577 by this
author is consistent with those results. Many more pieces of the KT bolide can probably be
recovered from North Pacfic sediments with shallow burial depths (<100 m). An interesting
phenomenon not linked to an impact is the discovery of 40 fossil meteorites in a single quarry of
Lower Ordovician (480 Ma) marine limestones. Schmitz and Tassinari [24] estimate the
meteorite flux that produced this deposit was one or two orders of magnitude greater than today.
They speculate that this was from disruption of the L chondrite parent body in the asteroid belt
and propose an enhanced flux of asteroids to Earth for about 30 m.y. at that time.

These data, as a whole, provide an evolving understanding of a small part of the record of
impacts that can be discerned from sediment deposits.
1. Late Pliocene – a km-sized projectile from the asteroid belt – probably a solitary event.
2. Late Eocene – a shower of dust and projectiles, including two large craters (Popigai and
Chesepeake Bay) – probably a ~3 Ma disturbance of the Oort cloud.
3. KT Boundary – probably a solitary projectile, with affinities to carbonaceous chondrite
meteorites – cometary vs. asteroidal origin has not been proven (this author favors the latter).
4. PT Boundary – whether mass extinction was related to an impact remains an elusive and still
disputed, but intriguing possibility.
5. Early Ordovician – major collision in the asteroid belt and a rain of projectiles on the Earth?
6. Early Archean – at least three major impact events over a 30 m.y. interval – could be tail of
the Late Heavy Bombardment (?), or evidence of a catastrophic event in the asteroid belt.

A better undertanding of the Cr-isotopic composition of cometary material would help

resolve some of the present uncertainties. Are comets similar to carbonaceous chondrites or
distinct from known meteorite groups? It may be possible to resolve this question by direct
sampling of cometary materials from the late Eocene. High concentrations of unusual cosmic
spherules occur in North Pacific core LL44-GPC3 [25] at the same interval as the 3He anomaly.
Work is currently underway to attempt to isolate meteorite fragments, or at least a sufficient
quantity of the spherules from these sediments to allow characterization of this cometary

1. Alvarez L.W., Alvarez W., Asaro F., and Michel H.V. (1980) Extraterrestrial cause for the
Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction. Science 208, 1095-1108.
2. Kyte F.T., Zhou Z., and Wasson J.T. (1981) High noble metal concentrations in a late Pliocene
sediment. Nature 292, 417-420.
3. Ganapathy R., (1982) Evidence for a major meteorite impact on the Earth 34 million years
ago: implications for Eocene extinctions. Science 216, 885-886.
4. Lowe. D.R., Byerly G.R., Asaro F. and Kyte F.T. (1989) Geological and geochemical
evidence for a record of 3,400 Ma-old terrestrial meteorite impacts. Science 245, 959-962.

5. Kyte F.T. and Wasson J.T. (1982) Geochemical constraints on the nature of large accretionary
events. Geol. Soc. Amer. Spec. Paper 190, 235-242.
6. Hildebrand et al. (1994) The Chicxulub crater and its relation to the KT boundary ejecta and
impact-wave deposits. Snowbird III, LPI Contribution 825, 49-50 (abs).
7. Farley K.A., (1995) Cenozoic variations in the flux of interplanetary dust recorded by He-3 in
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Donald R. Lowe1, and Gary R. Byerly2. 1Department of Geological and Environmental

Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2115 USA. 2Department of Geology and
Geophysics, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803 USA

Rocks in the Barberton Greenstone Belt (BGB), South Africa, include at least 4 layers
containing spherules produced by large meteorite impacts on the Archean Earth. Termed S1
through S4, these layers were initially described and interpreted by Lowe and Byerly (1986) and
subsequently in greater detail by Lowe et al. (1989), Kyte et al. (1992), and Byerly and Lowe
(1994). A key step in the confirmation of these units as the products of impacts was the
discovery of extraterrestrial chrome in S4 (Shukolyukov et al., 2000a) and subsequently in S2
(Shukolyukov et al., 2000b).

The 10-13 km of deformed sedimentary and volcanic rocks in the BGB comprise three
lithostratigraphic groups. The Onverwacht Group, up to 9 km thick and ranging from 3,555 to
3,260 Ma, includes, from base upward, the Komati, Hooggenoeg, Kromberg, and Mendon
Formations. All consist largely of mafic and ultramafic volcanic rocks. The upper three include
interbedded layers of silicified sediments and pyroclastic materials (cherts). The overlying Fig
Tree Group (3,260-3,225 Ma) includes 100-600 m of felsic pyroclastic and volcaniclastic rocks,
sandstone and conglomerate, chemical sediments, and chert. The uppermost unit, the Moodies
Group (<3,225 Ma, >3,109 Ma), includes up to 3000 m of quartzose sandstone and

S1 occurs in a 1-3 m-thick layer of chert, H4c of Lowe and Byerly (1999), in the upper half
of the Hooggenoeg Formation. Its age is <3,475 and >3,445 Ma. H4c can be traced for over 15
km along strike within a sequence of mafic volcanic rocks. The lower 1-2 m consists of black
carbonaceous chert, banded chert, and silicified pyroclastic fall deposits. All beds are thin, fine-
grained, and lack evidence of current or wave activity. Deposition took place in quiet water well
below local wave base. In the upper part of the unit, S1 is a 10-50 cm-thick unit of spherules (5-
30%) mixed with sand-sized clastic and volcaniclastic debris, including some black chert clasts
representing ripped up carbonaceous and muddy sediments. The beds are commonly cross-
laminated to cross-bedded. S1 is overlain by fine-grained carbonaceous and volcaniclastic
sediments marking a return to quiet-water sedimentation.

S2 is present in a number of structural belts in the southern part of the BGB at the base of the
Fig Tree Group, dated at 3,256 Ma based in a felsic tuff a few meters above S2. It overlies black
and banded cherts at the top of the Onverwacht Group. S2 everywhere consists of ripped-up
chert clasts, chunks of ultramafic volcanic rock, and sand-sized detrital chert grains mixed with
<5% sand-sized spherules. In most sections, S2 is 20-100 cm thick, but it ranges up to 3-4 m.
Where thickest, it includes blocks of underlying chert up to 50-75 cm across. Although the
underlying cherts and overlying Fig Tree sediments were deposited under quiet, low-energy
conditions, S2 represents a period of anomalous high-energy, erosive current and/or wave

S3 occurs in the lower 100 m of the Fig Tree Group in southern areas but marks the Fig Tree
Onverwacht contact in the north, where an immediately underlying felsic tuff has been dated as
3,243 Ma. It is the most widely distributed spherule layer in the BGB and occurs in sections
deposited across a wide range of depositional environments. In the southern BGB, it is
interbedded with fan-delta to shallow shelf clastic and volcaniclastic units. Along the northern
edge of the BGB, S3 occurs in quiet, deep-water sections as a 20-30 cm-thick layer of nearly
pure spherules characterized by abundant chrome spinels and high-Ir contents. In all sections, it
shows evidence of working by current or wave activity, even in deep-water sections where
adjacent units reflect deposition under very low-energy, wave- and current-free conditions.

S4 is known from a single outcrop, where it occurs 8 m above S3 and consists of 10-15 cm of
nearly pure chlorite spherules. It is interbedded with and eroded laterally by coarse, probably
non-marine fan-delta clastic units.

Lowe and Byerly and Lowe et al (1989) interpreted the spherules in S1-S4 as the
condensation products of rock vapor clouds ejected above the earth's atmosphere following large
impacts. Modeling based on spherule size, bed thickness, and Ir fluence suggests very large
impactors, 20-50 km in diameter. Modeling of impact bed compositions suggest little or no
continental material in any of the impact targets. The falling condensate spherules probably
formed layers that extended over most of the Earth's surface. S1-S4 are composed only of
spherules or spherules mixed with debris that appears to be derived by local erosion. They lack
coarse ballistic ejecta and were apparently deposited far away from the impact sites.

These beds carry a number of significant inferences about the Archean Earth: (1) S1-S3 all
show sections deposited under quiet, often deep-water conditions but within which the spherule
beds represent major but short-lived current and wave events that widely resulted in erosion of
underlying sedimentary and volcanic units. These events appear to reflect the passage of large
tsunamis that swept the world's oceans following the impacts. (2) The widespread evidence of
tsunami activity accompanying the impacts suggests that these layers and the associated parts of
the greenstone-belt sequence were deposited in the oceans and not in local lakes, as has been
suggested by some investigators. (3) The presence of tsunami deposits in all three marine impact
layers (S1-S3) suggests that there were no large continent-sized land masses to mitigate the
global effects of the tsunamis. (4) The coincidence of two major impact layers, S2 and S3, with
the diachronous transition from Onverwacht mafic and ultramafic volcanism to Fig Tree felsic
volcanism, uplift, and orogenesis suggest that impacts may have triggered reorganization of the
surficial tectonic system. (5) The presence of at least three and perhaps 4 major impact layers
>10-15 cm thick in the Fig Tree Group deposited over an interval of <35 ma and probably <15
ma suggests the possibility that either the flux of large (>10 km diameter) impactors was very
high as late as 3,250 Ma or the impact rate varied significantly over the interval represented by
rocks in the BGB.

Byerly, G.R., and Lowe, D.R., 1994, Spinel from Archean impact spherules: Geochim.
Cosmochim. Acta 58, 3469-3486.

Lowe, D.R., and Byerly, G.R., 1986, Early Archean silicate spherules of probable impact origin,
South Africa and Western Australia: Geology 14, 83-86.
Lowe, D.R., and Byerly, G.R., 1999, Stratigraphy of the west-central part of the Barberton
Greenstone Belt, South Africa: in Lowe, D.R., and Byerly, G.R., eds., Geologic evolution of
the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa: Geol. Soc. America Special Paper 329, 1-36.
Lowe, D.R., Byerly, G.R., Asaro, F., and Kyte, F.T., 1989, Geological and geochemical record
of 3400-Million-Year-Old Terrestrial Meteorite Impacts: Science 245, 959-962.
Kyte, F.T., Zhou, L., and Lowe, D.R., 1992, Noble metal abundances in an Early Archean
impact deposit: Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 56, 1365-1372.
Shukolyukov, A., Kyte, F.T., Lugmair, G.W., Lowe, D.R., and Byerly, G.R., 2000a, The oldest
impact deposits on Earth – First confirmation of an extraterrestrial component: in Gilmour, I.,
and Koeberl, C., eds., Impacts and the Early Earth: Heidelberg, Germany, Springer-Verlag
Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences p. 99-116.
Shukolyukov, A., Kyte, F.T., Lugmair, G.W., Lowe, D.R., and Byerly, G.R., 2000b, Early
Archean spherule bed S3 – Confirmation of impact origin: Meteoritical Society, 63rd Annual
Meeting, Abstracts.


J.I. Lunine. LPL, U. Arizona, Tucson AZ 85721 USA

Morbidelli et al. (Meteoritics and Planetary Science, v. 35, 1309, 2000) quantified the
delivery of water to the forming Earth from a number of solar system sources, and concluded
that planet-sized bodies in the primordial asteroid belt constitute the largest source-- one
consistent with the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio (D/H) in chondrites and Earth's ocean. In the
present paper I explore the implications of our work for the delivery of water to Mars during that
planet's formation, assess whether the results are consistent with constraints on the early D/H of
Martian water, and then reexamine the whole picture in light of additional isotopic data.

While the D/H of the present Martian atmosphere almost certainly reflects strong
fractionation during loss of the atmosphere over geologic time, the SNC meteorite record of the
ancient Martian crust provides important constraints on the original water inventory. Leshin
(Geophysical Research Letters, v. 27, 2017, 2000) obtained a D/H ratio twice that of Standard
Mean Ocean Water (SMOW) in the meteorite QUE94201, and interprets this as the signature of
an early, rapid episode of atmospheric doubling of D/H from the SMOW value. However, an
alternative view would be that the 2 x SMOW value of D/H is a primordial value and that Mars
received a different mix of high vs. low D/H water during its formation, relative to the Earth. If
so, where does the high D/H water come from, and with how much water might the crust of Mars
have been initially endowed? It is possible to answer these questions in the context of the
Morbidelli et al. dynamical simulation of planet growth.

Our results are as follows, under the plausible assumption that Mars is not struck by a large
planetary embryo from the asteroid belt, in contrast to the Earth (otherwise Mars grows too big).

§ Mars acquires its water from a roughly comparable mix of asteroidal sized bodies, in the
asteroid belt and in the outer solar system (i.e., "comets").
§ The total water Mars accretes is 1/20 of an Earth ocean, which is enough to explain the
geological features on Mars indicative of water erosion, but toward the low end of the range
of estimates of early water abundance on Mars.
§ The D/H ratio of martian water, prior to atmospheric escape, is 1.6 times SMOW, which is
consistent with the picture obtained from Leshin's analysis of the SNC meteorite QUE94201.

If the above model for the origin of water is correct, then I propose the following sequence of
events regarding the origin and evolution of water on Earth and Mars:

§ Massive primordial asteroid belt is stirred up by Jupiter formation

§ Large asteroids form as part of inner planet accretion
§ Earth accretes water-rich embryos late, from > 2.5 AU
§ Final Earth water = 3 Earth oceans with D/H =150 ppm=SMOW
§ Mars does not accrete an embryo (but could have)
§ Mars receives water from mixture of asteroids and comets
§ Final Mars water = 0.05 Earth oceans; D/H=1.6 SMOW
§ Earth crustal water system mostly retained over its history

§ Mars water mostly lost; current atmospheric D/H= 5 SMOW
§ Earth water will undergo escape in 1-2 gyr, (J. Kasting, Icarus v. 74, 472, 1988); D/H will

The Morbidelli et al model can be tested by examining isotopes other than deuterium-
hydrogen. Indeed, the nearly identical isotopic pattern in stable oxygen between Earth and Moon
severely constraints the amount of asteroidal (chondritic) material acquired by Earth to about
half our desired value. Nonetheless, we still can generate several oceans worth of water on Earth
and satisfy the oxygen isotopic data. Alternative models for the supply of water to Earth, namely
that local planetesimals were hydrated but had a different oxygen isotope ratio from the
chondrites, would not negate our hypothesis for Mars. However, it is hard to understand, in a
nebula cool enough to allow hydrated minerals at 1 AU, why Mars was not endowed with an
enormous inventory of water that today ought still to be in evidence.

Additional, more general references beyond those cited above:

§ Lunine, J.I. 1999. Earth: Evolution of a Habitable World. Cambridge U. Press.

§ Ward, P. and Brownlee, D. 2000. Rare Earth, Copernicus Books, New York.
§ Lunine, J.I. 2001. The occurrence of Jovian planets and the habitability of planetary systems.
Proc. National Acad. Sciences 98, 809-814.


H. J. Melosh, Lunar and Planetary Lab., University of Arizona, Tucson AZ 85721


Introduction: It is now generally accepted that meteorite-size fragments of rock can be

ejected from planetary bodies. Numerical studies of the orbital evolution of such planetary
ejecta are consistent with the observed cosmic ray exposure times and infall rates of these
meteorites. All of these numerical studies agree that a substantial fraction (up to 1/3) of the
ejecta from any planet in our solar system is eventually thrown out of the solar system during
encounters with the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn. Here, I examine the probability that such
interstellar meteorites might be captured into a distant solar system and fall onto a terrestrial
planet in that system. The implications of these results for the possibility of interstellar
panspermia are examined.

Orbital Evolution of Planetary Ejecta: Currently, we believe that planetary meteorites

ejected from their planets of origin by large impacts through the process of spallation. Once
ejected from a parent planet, such meteorites make many close passes to other planets or interact
with orbital resonances created by the giant planets. Because of these encounters the orbits of
the ejecta alter with time and the ejected rocks may eventually end up falling onto another planet
or leaving the solar system. A number of estimates suggest that roughly 15 potentially
recoverable planetary meteorites per year fall on the Earth.

Orbital evolution simulations suggest that about as many Martian meteorites are ejected by
Jupiter as fall on Earth each year. Currently, about 15 rocks greater than 10 cm diameter that
originate on the surface of a terrestrial planet leave the solar system each year. These meteorites
exit the solar system with velocites in the vicinity of 5±3 km/sec

It is much more likely that an approaching interstellar meteorite will be captured into a bound
orbit by a hypothetical giant planet in the target system than that it will directly impact a
terrestrial planet. Just as Jupiter is the main agent of ejection from our solar system, it may also
serve as the main entry point for interstellar meteorites. Once captured into the stellar system the
meteorites have a much higher probability of eventually striking a terrestrial planet belonging to
that system

The capture probability of interstellar meteorites is a decreasing function of the approach

velocity. I find that the probability drops rapidly at approach velocities higher than about 1
km/sec, but even at this velocity the cross section approaches 1 AU2—far higher than that for
direct impact on a terrestrial planet. The overall integral of cross section under the curve is about
40. Using the velocity dispersion of ±20 km/sec for stars near the Sun, the convolution of the
velocity distribution and the velocity-dependent cross section yields an over-all capture cross
section of about 1 AU2. This cross section indicates that about 1 meteorite ejected from a planet
belonging to our solar system is captured by another stellar system every 100 Myr.

Impact on a Terrestrial Planet: It is not enough that a potentially life-transporting

meteorite should be captured into another solar system. It must also find its way onto the surface

of a planet within a habitable zone. The capture simulation program indicates that the orbits of
captured interstellar meteorites are very comet-like, with semimajor axes of typically several
hundred AU. For a wide range of assumptions about the location and size of a target terrestrial
planet the probability that it impacts the planet is only about 10-4. This translates to only a very
slim chance that life can be transported from one stellar system to another. It seems that the
origin of life on Earth will have to be sought within the confines of the solar system itself, not
abroad in the galaxy.


David Morrison. NASA Astrobiology Institute, NASA Ames Research Center

The discipline of astrobiology includes the dynamics of biological evolution. One of the
major ways that the cosmos influences life is through the catastrophic environmental disruptions
caused when comets and asteroids impact a planet. We now recognize that such impacts have
played a major role in determining the evolution of life on Earth, and presumably the same sort
of influences work on other potentially habitable planets.

The small fraction of the asteroids with Earth-crossing or Earth-approaching orbits constitute
the major impacting population on Earth. The time-averaged impact flux as a function of
projectile energy can be derived from lunar cratering statistics, although we have little
information on the possible variability of this flux over time. Effects of impacts of various
energies can be modeled, using data from historic impacts (such as the KT impactor 65 million
years ago) and the observed 1994 bombardment of Jupiter by fragments of comet Shoemaker-
Levy 9. It is of particular interest to find from such models that the terrestrial environment is
highly vulnerable to perturbation from impacts, so that even such a small event as the KT impact
(by a projectile roughly 15 km in diameter) can lead to a mass extinction. Similar considerations
allow us to model the effects of still smaller (and much more likely) impacts, down to the size of
the asteroid that exploded in Tunguska in 1908 (energy about 15 megatons).

Combining the impact flux with estimates of environmental and ecological effects reveals
that the greatest contemporary hazard is associated with impactors near one million megatons
energy (about 1-2 km diameter for an asteroid). The current impact hazard is significant relative
to other natural hazards, and arguments can be developed to illuminate a variety of public policy
issues. These include the relative risk of different impact scenarios and the associated costs and
probability of success of countermeasures. Impacts represent the extreme case of a hazard of low
probablity but great consequences.

The first priority in any plan for defense against impactors is to survey the population of
Earth-crossing asteroids (NEAs) and project their orbits forward in time. This is the purpose of
the Spaceguard Survey, which has already found more than half of the NEAs larger than 1 km in
diameter. If there is a NEA on a collision course with Earth, it can be discovered and the impact
predicted with decades or more of warning. It is then possible to consider how to deflect or
disrupt the NEA. Unlike other natural hazards, the impact risk can be largely eliminated, given
sufficient advanced knowledge to take action against the threatening projectile.

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360:429-433 (1992)
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disruption of a stony asteroid. Nature 361:40-44 (1993)

Chapman, C.R. and D. Morrison: Impacts on the Earth by asteroids and comets: assessing the
hazard. Nature 367:33-39 (1994)
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Distribution of Near-Earth Asteroids. Science 288: 2190-2194 (2000).
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S. Mukhopadhyay1, K.A. Farley2, A. Montanari3. 1 Department of Terrestrial Magnetism,

Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, DC 20015, U.S.A. 2Department of Geological
and Planetary Sciences, Caltech, Pasadena, CA 91125, U.S.A. 3Osservatorio Geologico di
Coldigioco, 62020 Frontale di Apiro, Italy

Interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) are tremendously enriched in 3He, compared to terrestrial
matter, because of the presence of implanted solar wind helium (e.g., Merrihue, 1964; Nier and
Schlutter, 1990). Accumulation of IDPs imparts high helium concentrations and high 3He/4He
ratios to many deep-sea sediments, and the 3He/4He ratios can be used to fingerprint the fraction
of extraterrestrial 3He in the sediments. The extraterrestrial 3He in sediments is most sensitive to
the accretion of IDPs ≤ 35 µm because larger IDPs undergo frictional heating upon atmospheric
entry and lose their helium (Farley et al., 1997). Like large IDPs, large bodies (> few meters in
diameter) are intensely heated and vaporized upon impact and, hence, do not contribute 3He to
the sedimentary record.

IDPs are derived from collisions in the asteroid and Kuiper belts and from active comets. The
geologic record of the IDP accretion rate is a powerful tool to investigate major events occurring
in the solar system, such as the dynamics and recurrence interval of collisions in the asteroid belt
and comet showers (e.g., Farley et al., 1998). For example, Farley et al. (1998) demonstrated that
an enhanced 3He accretion rate in the Late Eocene was temporally correlated with multiple
terrestrial impact features, specifically the Chesapeake Bay and Popigai impact craters, and Ir
anomalies in the stratigraphic record. The pattern of 3He flux in the Late Eocene and close
temporal association with multiple impacts is most consistent with an enhanced solar system
dustiness associated with a comet shower (Farley et al., 1998).

To understand the delivery history of IDPs over geologic time and its relationship to
terrestrial impacts, particularly at the K/T boundary, He abundance and isotopic composition
were measured in a suite of pelagic limestones exposed in the Italian Apennines that were
deposited between ~74 to ~39 Ma (Mukhopadhyay et al., 2001a). The measurements indicate
that the extraterrestrial 3 He accretion rate in the Maastrichtian was fairly constant. Minor
fluctuations in the IDP accretion rate are present, which probably reflect random events in the
asteroid or Kuiper belts.

High-resolution 3He data across the K/T boundary (63.9 to 65.4 Ma) indicate a low and
invariant IDP accretion rate (Mukhopadhyay et al., 2001b). Thus, the K/T impactor was not
associated with enhanced solar system dustiness and, hence, not a member of a comet shower.
Instead, the K/T impactor is more likely to have been a single earth-crossing asteroid or comet.
He as a constant-flux proxy of sedimentation rate implies deposition of the K/T boundary clay
in 10 ± 2 kyr and the impact ejecta layer in less than 60 years. These results indicate that the
mass-extinction at the K/T boundary was catastrophic, suggesting that the impact was the main
driving force behind the K/T biotic calamity.

We observe a 2-4 fold increase in the 3He accretion rate close to the Paleocene/Eocene
boundary followed by a factor of three decay over a ~4-5 Myr period. This increase does not
exhibit the temporal pattern expected from a comet shower arising from a gravitational
perturbation of the Oort cloud (Hut et al., 1987; Farley et al., 1998). Furthermore, there are no
known PGE anomalies despite measurements covering the time interval (e.g., Kyte and Wasson,
1986). Instead, our data are more consistent with an increase in solar system dustiness resulting
from a major collision in the asteroid belt or, alternatively, the Kuiper belt.

Based on the 3He accretion rate between 74 to 39 Ma, we find no evidence for recurrent
comet showers with periods less than 38 Myrs. In general, in combination with previous 3He
measurements (Farley, 1995), the recent data do not support either models that predict periodic
impacts, or the hypothesis that comet showers drive terrestrial mass extinction events.

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to the sea floor. Nature 378, 600-603.
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evidence for a comet shower in the Late Eocene. Science 280, 1250-1252.
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to 67 million years ago. Science 232, 1225-1229.
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pelagic limestones from Italy: Implications fro interplanetary dust accretion from the early
Maastrichtian to the middle Eocene. Geochem. Cosmochim. Acta 65, 653-669.
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Tertiary boundary event: Evidence from extraterrestrial Helium-3. Science 291, 1952-1955.
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Meteoritics 25, 263-267.


E. Pierazzo. Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Univ. of Arizona (

The Chicxulub structure, on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, was produced 65 Myr ago, at the
end of the Cretaceous Period [1]. The impact occurred on a partially submerged platform
consisting of a thick (3 km) sequence of carbonates and evaporites overlying a continental crust,
and produced a multiring structure, whose transient cavity diameter is estimated to be around
100 km [2]. Estimates of the amount of evaporitic deposits in the sediments range from about
50% [3] to 30% [4], although lower limits of 10% have also been suggested (Claeys, personal
communication). A shallow sea (few tens of meters) was covering the region, suggesting that
the sedimentary layer was probably saturated with water. In addition to the direct short-term
effects of the impact (e.g., see [5]), the presence of evaporites in a water-saturated sedimentary
layer may have caused, through the release in the atmosphere of large loads of S-bearing gases
and water vapor, a longer-lasting strong and abrupt climate shift, possible key to the K/T
boundary mass extinction. Hydrocode simulations [6,7] indicate that the amount of S injected in
the stratosphere ranged between about 75 and 270 Gt, depending also on projectile type and
impact speed, with a lower limit of 25 Gt under the assumption that evaporites constituted only
∼10% of the sedimentary layer. Important climate changes were initially attributed to the CO2
released from the carbonates as well. However, impact modeling studies [6,7] indicate that the
CO2 released in the impact is not enough to produce a strong effect on the climate.

The evolution of the sulfur-bearing gases injected in the stratosphere by the impact event is
investigated using the Sulfate Aerosol Model (SAM) developed for this work [8]. The SO2, H2O,
and sulfate aerosols are distributed uniformly over the globe (partially justified by the fast
worldwide expansion, well beyond the stratosphere, of the impact plume). The microphysical
model for the formation and evolution of the stratospheric aerosols follows that described in [9].
The aerosols are continuously formed by combining impact-produced SO2 and SO3 with H2O,
and their evolution is described by processes like coagulation, growth, gravitational settling and
diffusion for various particle sizes.
Climate Forcing: Climate forcing is defined as the change in the Earth’s total radiative
balance at the tropopause and is measured in units of heat flux (W/m2). The climate forcing due
to stratospheric S-injection is assessed by coupling the SAM to the Column Radiation Model
(CRM), a standalone version of the radiation model used in CCM3 [10], the general circulation
model of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The CRM determine the
radiation balance and heating rates at various atmospheric levels for the perturbed atmosphere,
which then can be compared to those for the unperturbed atmosphere to determine the climate
forcing due to the stratospheric aerosols. The model has been tested and tuned using the well-
recorded and studied Pinatubo eruption of June 1991. As a result of the eruption, in 1992 the
temperature of the lower troposphere showed a global decline of ∼0.5°C, with much of the
decrease occurring in the Northern Hemisphere (0.7°C).

The impact-related injection of S-bearing gases from the sedimentary layer (S>25 Gt), is
responsible for a negative forcing about two orders of magnitude stronger than the Pinatubo

volcanic eruption, persisting globally for about two years after the impact [8]. Even without the
contribution from the sedimentary layer, the forcing due to the S from the projectile alone would
be over 30 times larger than for the Pinatubo case. For comparison, the climate forcing
associated with the largest CO2 injection estimated by [6] (for a 100 km transient crater) is only
around 2 W m-2 (i.e., warming with the adopted convention). A forcing larger than the maximum
forcing for the Pinatubo eruption, i.e., around -5 W m-2, persists for 4 to 5 years. This timescale
may be enough to cool down the ocean’s surface layer, but it does not affect the deep ocean. It is
the deep ocean that, thanks to its high heat capacity, plays a crucial role as moderator of the
Earth’s climate. This implies that, on a geologically short timescale (i.e., hundreds of years) the
climate was able to fully recover to pre-impact conditions.

Climate Sensitivity: Climate sensitivity is the mean change in global temperature that occurs
in response to a specific forcing. The CRM is particularly useful for studying the Earth’s energy
budget and the radiative forcing of greenhouse gases and aerosols. Unfortunately, the responses
of the climate to the forcing, like surface temperature, are not a simple function of the forcing,
and can only be satisfactory modeled by a complete 3-D GCM. An initial assessment of climate
sensitivity to the sulfate loading has been done by coupling NCAR’s single column model
(SCCM) to the SAM. SCCM is equivalent to a grid column of the more complete global climate
model CCM3 [10] where the performance of the parameterized physics for the column is
evaluated in isolation from the rest of the large-scale model. While lacking the more complete
feedback mechanisms available to an atmospheric column imbedded in the global model, it
provides an inexpensive first look at the response of the system to the forcing introduced by a
particular parameterization.

The presence of the S-bearing gases and sulfate aerosols (strong LW absorbers) initially in the
upper atmospheric layer of the model produces a significant change in the atmospheric radiation
fluxes. This results in a strong heating of the stratosphere accompanied by a strong cooling at
the Earth’s surface [11]. Compared to a Pinatubo-type eruption, the model estimates that in the
uppermost layer the temperature increases by (at least) several tens of degrees, more than an
order of magnitude that associated with Pinatubo. At the surface the impact-produced cooling is
around several degrees, again at least an order of magnitude that associated with Pinatubo.

References: [1] Hildebrand A.R. et. al. (1991) Geol., 19, 867. [2] Morgan J. et al. (1997)
Nature 390, 472. [3] López-Ramos E. (1975) in The Ocean Basins and Margins Vol. 3 (Nairn-
Stehli eds.), 257. [4] Ward P.D. et al. (1995) Geology 23, 873. [5] Toon O.B. et al. (1997) Rev.
Geophys. 35, 41. [6] Pierazzo E. et al. (1998) JGR, 103, 28607. [7] Ivanov B.A. et al. (1996)
Geol. Soc. Am. Spec. Paper 307, 125. [8] Pierazzo E. (2001) LPSC XXXII, Abst. #1196. [9]
Turco R.P. et al. (1979) J. Atmo. Sci., 36, 699. [10] Kiehl J.T. et al. (1996) NCAR/TN-420+STR,
152 pp. [11] Pierazzo E. & Hahmann A.N. (2001) AGU Fall Meeting, Abst. #6301.


Thomas R. Quinn. Astronomy Dept., University of Washington, Seattle WA 98195-1580,


The formation and subsequent orbital evolution of the Giant planets plays a significant role in
determining the impact rate of asteroids and comets on Earth. First, the planet formation process
controls the size and distribution of the reservoirs of small bodies that are the ultimate source of
Earth impactors. Second, the gravitational influence of the large planets determine the delivery
of potential impactors from these reservoirs into Earth crossing orbits. For example, it has been
proposed (Wetherill, 1994) that the absence of Jupiter size planets in a planetary system would
result in a cometary flux from the Oort cloud into the terrestrial region 1000 times greater than in
our Solar System with clear consequences to the impact rate. On the other hand the formation of
the Oort cloud is determined by the mass and orbits of the outer planets (Duncan, Quinn and
Tremaine, 1987; also see a review by Duncan and Quinn, 1993). Likewise the delivery of
asteroids from the main belt into Near Earth objects involves orbital resonances with Jupiter.
However, the presence of the asteroid belt itself, as opposed to a fifth terrestrial planet, may be
due to the presence of Jupiter during the planetesimal accretion phase of planet formation.

The difficulty in sorting out these issues is exacerbated by our lack of knowledge of the
planet formation process. The standard paradim for the formation of our own planetary system
involves the condensation of volatiles into grains, the aggregation of those grains into
planetesimals, and the collisions of those planetesimals to build up proto-planets and the planets
we see today (see a review by Lissauer, 1993). This model has been very successful in
explaining the the properties of our own planetary system including: the composition of the
terrestrial planets in contrast to the gas giants, the spins of the terrestrial planets, the formation of
the moon, and, of course, the presence of the small bodies including the asteroid belt, the Kuiper
belt, and the Oort comet cloud. This model was badly shaken by the discovery of ``hot Jupiters''
around other stars (see Marcy, Cochran, and Mayor, 2001 for a review of planets discovered
around other stars): low density bodies were found where the models predicted planets with the
density of Mercury. Therefore, we have been forced to consider modifications to the standard
planet formation paradim, and completely different senarios for planet formation. Orbital
migration of gas giants either through interation with a gas disk (Lin, Bodenheimer, and
Richardson, 1996) or by scattering of planetesimals (Murray et al., 1998) provides an
explanation for these planets close to the parent star, and this would have significant
consequences for small body reservoirs. A complete different theory for planet formation is the
gravitational instability model (Boss, 1997), but the origin of comets and asteroids in such a
model is unclear.


Boss, A.~P. 1997. ``Giant planet formation by gravitational instability.'' Science 276, 1836-1839.
Duncan, M.~J.~and T.~Quinn 1993. ``The long-term dynamical evolution of the solar system.''
Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys., 31, 265-295.
Duncan, M., T.~Quinn, and S.~Tremaine 1987. ``The formation and extent of the solar system
comet cloud.'' Astron. J., 94, 1330-1338.

Lin, D.~N.~C., P.~Bodenheimer, and D.~C.~Richardson 1996. ``Orbital migration of the
planetary companion of 51 Pegasi to its present location.'' Nature, 380, 606-607.
Lissauer, J.~J. 1993. ``Planet formation.'' Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys., 31, 129-174.
Marcy, G.~W., W.~D.~Cochran, and M.~Mayor 2000. ``Extrasolar Planets around Main-
Sequence Stars.'', Protostars and Planets IV, 1285.
Murray, N., B.~Hansen, M.~Holman, and S.~Tremaine 1998. ``Migrating Planets." Science,
279, 69.
Wetherill, G.~W., 1994, "Possible consequences of absence of Jupiters in planetary systems'',
Ap&SS, 212, 23.


Graham Ryder, Lunar and Planetary Institute, 3600 Bay Area Boulevard, Houston TX 77058,

Carbon isotopic and geochronological evidence led Mojzsis et al. (1996) and Mojzsis and
Harrison (2000) to infer that life existed on Earth in bacterial form in the oceans at 3.85 Ga. If so,
then Earth’s life originated at that time or at some time during the Hadean Era. The lunar impact
record for the post-Akilia interval ~3.8 Ga to ~3.0 Ga shows that even this late in solar system
evolution, the impact rate in the Earth-Moon system averaged ~ 15 times the present rate,
declining from more than 100 times to within a factor of about 2 of the current rate. A basin-
forming time of even higher impact intensity with larger impactors preceded that interval. Thus,
it is generally and reasonably assumed that the origin of life on Earth took place under a much
higher impact flux than life has had to endure during its subsequent evolution (e.g., Chyba,
1993). The general effect of this bombardment is assumed to be the frustration of the origin of
life (e.g., Maher and Stevenson, 1988; Sleep et al., 1989; Oberbeck and Fogleman, 1989), i.e.,
that the environment was deleterious.

However, both of these assumptions can be questioned because of the lack of independent
evidence for the timing and intensity of impacting at any given time in the Hadean, and
depending on what it takes for an impact to have eradicating effects. The Earth’s own geological
record for events in the Hadean Era is so sparse that nothing can be inferred directly from it
about impact events, impact rates, or impactor populations. All claims about them are based on
theoretical models and evidence from extraterrestrial bodies, including meteorites and the Moon.
Among terrestrial rocks ~3.85 Ga and slightly younger (the Akilia and Isua sequences) there is as
yet no unequivocal evidence of a heavy bombardment (Ryder et al., 2000; Koeberl et al., 2000;
Anbar et al., 2001). Whether this is because the chronology is incorrect, or there was no heavy
bombardment, or that the processes of sedimentation and erosion were such as to preclude
preservation of measurable impact signatures remains to be determined.

The record of the Moon is our best potential template for the impact history of the Hadean
Earth: It is the only body for which we have both a stratigraphic record of events and some
calibration of absolute chronology using samples. The Moon also provides indications of the
state of its crustal preservation, and chemical and petrographic information about impact events
and impactors, all of which provide constraints on the impact history. Furthermore, the Moon has
been in Earth orbit since its origin, so the two bodies have been subject to a common population
of heliocentric impactors. Scaling of the Earth’s record to allow for its attraction of a greater
number of impactors and their greater impact energy is reasonably understood (e.g., Zahnle and
Sleep, 1997). It is critical to establish what the lunar record actually is based on observations of
the Moon and lunar samples, rather than on theoretical models alone.

Photogeological techniques have produced a relative stratigraphic column, based on major

basin formation. The major divisions are defined by the formation of the Nectaris basin, the
Imbrium basin, and the Orientale basin, leading to the Pre-Nectarian System, the Nectarian
System, and the Lower Imbrian Series (Wilhelms, 1987; Stöffler and Ryder, 2001). The Pre-
Nectarian System contains about 30 recognized impact basins, including the oldest and largest

(South Pole – Aitken). The Nectarian contains 12 basins, including Nectaris. The Lower Imbrian
contains only the Imbrium, Schroedinger, and Orientale basins. The younger Upper Imbrian
consists of basin-free mare lavas and smaller craters.

This stratigraphic column has been partly calibrated against absolute ages, requiring
geological interpretation of the context of particular rocks. Nectaris and Imbrium are inferred to
be 3.90 +/- 0.1 Ga and 3.85 +/- 0.1 Ga, respectively (see Hartmann et al., 2000 for recent
discussion). These ages are consistent with absolute ages for Serenitatis and Crisium of close to
3.89 Ga, and show that 13 basins (and possibly 15) were formed in a brief period of less than 60
million years, with the ~ 30 Pre-Nectarian basins at some earlier time. What this means depends
on whether the basin record is saturated or in production. If the entire post-crustal formation
record is preserved, then there was certainly a cataclysmic bombardment at ~ 3.90 Ga that was
unprecedented in the previous 500 million years.

Most lunar impact melt rocks sampled have little geological context. However, the best way
to date impacts is with melt produced by impact melting; most other crater ejecta and deposits
are produced at lower temperatures that rarely reset (just disturb) radiogenic systems, even K-Ar
systems (e.g., Deutsch and Schärer, 1994). A wide compositional variety of impact melts has
been obtained, and nearly all give radiogenic ages that are less than 3.95 Ga. This observation
was made early in lunar sample studies and gave rise to the cataclysmic bombardment concept
(Tera et al., 1974). If a continually declining bombardment following crustal formation
occurred, the melts produced by it are not in the sample collection. One possibility is that they
have been remelted/reset by the youngest major events (Hartmann, 1975). This would have
converted much of the upper crust to impact melt; samples show that this is not the case. Many
old rocks exist, but all but a few are not impact melts. The availability of old anorthosites,
norites, troctolites, and volcanic rocks suggests strongly that numerous old impact melts would
have been preserved and collected, if they had ever existed (Ryder, 1990). Another concept, that
the collection is biased to include only the melts from the latest basins (e.g., Imbrium; Wetherill,
1981), is incompatible with geological arguments for collection, lack of equilibration in melts,
and the wide variety of melt compositions that have been sampled and dated as actually distinct –
though similar – in age. Recent data for meteorite samples also suggest that old impact melts are
rare, and that the ~ 3.9 Ga ages are global (Cohen et al., 2000). Other possibilities for biased
collection have not been developed in the literature.

Two further points suggest that there was a late intense bombardment rather than a
continuous decline from accretion: The low levels of siderophile elements in the lunar crust as
sampled, and the preservation of crustal structure and lithology as seen from samples and orbit
(see discussion in Hartmann et al., 2000).

The flux to the Moon can be expressed in terms of mass accretion rather than basin or crater
formation. The sizes of the basin-forming projectiles can be reasonably inferred, and for the
Nectarian-Lower Imbrian times provide a minimum mass flux to the Moon of 2 x 1021 g (Ryder,
submitted 2001). If the interval was as much as 100 million years, then the flux was 2 x 1013 g/y
over this period, higher by an order of magnitude than any potential curve that declines
continuously from accretion to the rate inferred for the older mare plains. This rate cannot be
extrapolated increasingly back into Pre-Nectarian times because the Moon would have added

masses far in excess of itself in post-crust formation times, showing that this Nectarian-Lower
Imbrian episode was a distinct and cataclysmic set of events. In that Nectaris is an arbitrary
boundary, not representing any geological change, then it is most likely that the previous ~ 30
basins were part of this same cataclysm and not much older (not older than 4.0 Ga, possibly not
even 3.95 Ga).

These lines of evidence suggest that the ancient lunar bombardment, in the period 4.4 – 3.9
Ga, has been exaggerated in most studies. It was instead comparatively benign, and for the most
part could have been within an order of magnitude of the present flux, following an intense
accretionary episode that was complete by ~ 4.45 Ga at the latest. When scaled to the Earth, even
the late cataclysm does not produce ocean-evaporating, globally-sterilizing events (based on
models in Zahnle and Sleep, 1997). The rooted concept that such sterilizing events took place is
based on the extrapolation on a non-existent lunar record to the Earth’s Hadean. The Earth from
~ 4.4. Ga to ~ 3.8 Ga was comparatively peaceful, and the impacting itself might have been
thermally and hydrothermally beneficial and wholesome, rather than deleterious. The origin of
life could have taken place at any time between 4.4 Ga and 3.85 Ga, given the current impact
constraints, and there is no justification for the claim that life originated (or re-originated) as late
as 3.85 Ga in response to the end of hostile impact conditions.

Anbar, A..D., K.J. Zahnle, G.L. Arnold, and S. J. Mojzsis, Extraterrestrial iridium, sediment
accumulation and the habitability of the early Earth's surface, J. Geophys. Res., 106, 3219-
3236, 2001.
Chyba, C.F., The violent environment of the origin of life: Progress and uncertainties, Geochim.
Cosmochim., 57, 3351-3358, 1993.
Cohen, B.A., T.D. Swindle, and D.A. Kring, Support for the lunar cataclysm hypothesis from
lunar meteorite impact melt ages, Science, 290, 1754-1756, 2000.
Deutsch, A. and U. Schärer, Dating of terrestrial impact events, Meteoritics, 29, 301-322, 1994.
Hartmann, W.K., "Lunar cataclysm": A misconception?, Icarus, 24, 181-187, 1975.
Hartmann, W.K., G. Ryder, L. Dones, and D. Grinspoon, The time-dependent intense
bombardment of the primordial Earth/Moon system, in Origin of Earth and Moon, edited by
R.M. Canup and K. Righter, pp. 493-512, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2000.
Koeberl, C., W.U. Reimold, I. McDonald, and M. Rosing, Search for petrographic and
geochemical evidence for the late heavy bombardment on Earth in Early Archean rocks from
Isua, Greenland, in Impacts and the Early Earth (I. Gilmour and C. Koeberl, Eds.), Springer,
73-97, 2000.
Maher, K.A. and D.J. Stevenson, Impact frustration of the origin of life, Nature, 331, 612-614,
Mojzsis, S.J., and T.M. Harrison, Vestiges of a beginning: Clues to the emergent biosphere
recorded in the oldest known rocks, GSA Today, 10, no.4, 1-6, 2000.
Mojzsis, S.J., G. Arrhenius, K.D. McKeegan, T.M. Harrison, A.P. Nutman, and C.R.L. Friend,
Evidence for life on Earth before 3800 million years ago, Nature, 384, 55-59, 1996.
Oberbeck, V.R. and G. Fogleman, Estimates of the maximium time required to orginate life,
Origins of Life, 19, 549-560, 1989.
Ryder, G., Lunar samples, lunar accretion, and the early bombardment of the Moon, Eos, 71,
313, 322-323, 1990.

Ryder, G., C. Koeberl, and S. J. Mojzsis, Heavy bombardment of the Earth at ~ 3.85 Ga: The
search for petrographic and geochemical evidence, in Origin of Earth and Moon, edited by
R.M. Canup and K. Righter, pp. 475-492, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2000.
Sleep, N.H., K.J. Zahnle, J.F. Kasting, and H.J. Morowitz, Annihilation of ecosystems by large
asteroid impacts on the early Earth, Nature, 342, 139-142, 1989.
Stöffler D., and G. Ryder, Stratigraphy and isotope ages of lunar geologic units: Chronological
standard for the inner solar system, Space. Sci. Rev, 96, 7-53, 2001.
Tera, F., D.A. Papanastassiou, and G.J. Wasserburg, Isotopic evidence for a terminal lunar
cataclysm, Earth Planet Sci. Lett., 22, 1-21, 1974.
Wetherill, G.W., Nature and origin of basin-forming projectiles, in Multi-Ring Basins, Proc.
Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. 12A (P.H. Schultz and R.B. Merrill, Eds.), 1-81, 1981.
Wilhelms, D.E., The Geologic History of the Moon, U.S.G.S. Prof. Paper, 1348, 302 pp., 1987.
Zahnle, K.J. and N.H. Sleep, Impacts and the early evolution of life, in Comets and the Origin
and Evolution of Life (P.J. Thomas, C.F.Chyba, C.P. McKay, Eds.), Springer-Verlag, New
York, 175-208, 1997.


Bruce M Simonson1 and Scott W Hassler2. 1Geology Department, Oberlin College, Oberlin OH
44074, U.S.A. ( 2John F. Kennedy University, Orinda, CA 94563,
U.S.A. (

Discrete layers rich in millimeter-scale spherules of former silicate melt that persist laterally
for tens to hundreds of kilometers have been detected in various early Precambrian stratigraphic
units. In my talk, I will describe spherule layers in 6 late Archean to Paleoproterozoic formations
(Table 1), interpret them as distal impact ejecta, and suggest that they should be used to constrain
the incidence and environmental effects of large impacts on the early Earth.

Table 1. Selected data on early Archean to early Paleoproterozoic impact spherule layers
(source: Simonson et al. 2001).

Host Group Location Est. Thickness EstimatedAge

Formation of Spherules
Grænsesø Vallen South Greenland 180 mm 1.9-2.0 Ga
Dales Gorge Hamersley Western Australia 50 mm ca. 2.49 Ga
Wittenoom Hamersley Western Australia 10 mm 2,541+18/-15 Ma
Carawine Hamersley Western Australia ≤250 mm ? 2,548 +26/-29 Ma
Jeerinah Fortescue Western Australia 100 mm? 2.63 Ga
Monteville Ghaap South Africa 50 mm ? 2.64 Ga

In each of these formations, the spherules are restricted to a single layer or thin stratigraphic
zone amidst shales and fine-grained carbonates. The latter were deposited below wave base in
deep shelf environments and commonly contain a number of intercalated “event” beds, mainly
turbidites and normally graded tuffs. The spherule-rich layers are also event deposits, but they
show a distinctive suite of sedimentary structures. Based on these structures, we infer the
following sequence of events during the deposition of the spherule layers: 1) high-energy scour,
resulting in local transport of meter-scale rip-up clasts, 2) deposition of spherules and other sand-
size detritus under the influence of waves, 3) reworking by syn- to post-wave offshore-directed
currents, and 4) later reworking by sediment gravity flows (Hassler and Simonson 2001). We
attribute most of this sequence to tsunami waves triggered by an impact, although the sediment
gravity flows may represent later events.

Petrographically, the spherules differ from volcaniclasts in the associated tuffs. The spherules
are highly rounded and comparable in shape to known impact ejecta such as microtektites,
whereas the volcaniclasts have angular shapes and other characteristics typical of hydrovolcanic
tephra. The spherules have been largely replaced by authigenic K-feldspar during diagenesis, but
most show relict crystal fabrics internally. Fibrous crystal sprays radiate inwards from the edges
of most spherules, but a minority have textures similar to those of partially crystallized basalts.
Most or all of the spherule layers are enriched in siderophile elements, particularly iridium,
relative to the non-volcanic and tuffaceous strata associated with them (Simonson et al. 1998,
2000). The most careful analysis done to date suggests the interelement ratios of the PGEs in the

late Monteville layer (Table 1) are relatively close to chondritic (Simonson et al. 2000). Given
these characteristics, we interpret the spherules as droplets of ballistic melt and/or vapor
condensate generated by large impacts. The K/T boundary layer is the only known Phanerozoic
occurrence with impact spherules as large and potentially as thick as these late Archean to
Paleoproterozoic occurrences. This suggests the Precambrian spherule layers are products of
impacts by projectiles on the order of 10 km in diameter.

Researchers have traditionally used the size and abundance of craters to assess the history of
impacts on Earth. We believe Precambrian spherule layers offer a second line of evidence that
can be used to constrain this history, and one that has greater potential for assessing the
environmental effects (or lack thereof) of large impacts on the early Earth. Large craters can
provide unmistakable evidence of impact, but ejecta layers from large impacts are much easier to
find in the sense that they blanket much larger areas. Given the absence of metazoa to burrow
sediment, the thinnest of ejecta layers can be preserved with no disruption in an appropriate
Precambrian succession. Moreover, ejecta layers represent our best source of data on large
impacts in ocean basins because most craters formed by impacts in oceanic lithosphere have
been destroyed by subduction. To appreciate what spherule layers can add to our understanding
of impacts in early Earth history, consider this: the oldest terrestrial impact craters we have
recognized formed about 2.0 Ga, yet all but one of the Precambrian spherule layers listed in
Table 1 are significantly older.

Using spherule layers to shed light on large impacts in early Earth history will have both
advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that a researcher who is familiar with impact
spherules can find evidence for a major impact thousands of kilometers from the site where it hit
with just a hand lens. Another big advantage of spherule layers over craters is that they are
always found in stratigraphic context. This will facilitate the determination of whether or not
significant environmental change took place at the time of impact, e.g. by analyzing biomarkers
in and isotopic compositions of strata above and below a given spherule layer. The K/T boundary
impact certainly resulted in major changes in Earth's surface environments and the life that
inhabited them. Large impacts could have caused equally significant changes in, for example, the
chemistry of the atmosphere or the global circulation of the oceans more than once during the
Precambrian. This in turn could have produced dramatic (and perhaps interrelated) changes in
the distributions of organisms and sediments. The most impressive thing we have noted is that
the strata directly above and below the spherule layers appear to be quite similar in most cases.
This suggests these impacts caused no immediate significant environmental change in deep shelf
environments, but this possibility needs to be tested more rigorously and in a broader range of

One of the disadvantages of using spherule layers as a record of large impacts is that thin
layers are vulnerable to removal from the stratigraphic record via erosion, tectonic deformation,
and/or diagenetic alteration. Most of the Precambrian spherule layers found to date have been
found in two restricted geographic areas (Table 1). These areas include some of the best-
preserved Archean and Paleoproterozoic successions on Earth, which suggests a preservational
bias. The textures that make spherules so distinctive are probably rapidly obscured by
metamorphism, and undeformed strata are progressively harder to find in older successions.
Finally, the conditions by which an impact creates primarily spherules and not other types of

ejecta are not well understood. Only a few Phanerozoic impact layers consist predominantly of
spherules (Grieve 1998), and one of the most widespread (the Australasian strewn field) has yet
to be linked to a crater. Therefore it is difficult to determine the exact relationship between the
size of an impact crater or projectile and the size, thickness, and abundance of the spherules it

Even though spherule layers are potentially easy to erode and difficult to interpret, known
occurrences in the Hamersley succession indicate at least three large impacts happened within ca.
140 million years around the Archean/Proterozoic boundary. This implies a "recurrence interval"
of approximately 70 million years, which is similar in magnitude to the recurrence interval for
large impactors in the Phanerozoic (Chapman and Morrison 1994). Similar spherules occur in
layers at 4 different stratigraphic levels in the early Archean Barberton Greenstone Belt of South
Africa (Lowe et al. 1989). Byerly et al. (1996) established that these four spherule layers were
deposited within a time span of some 300 million years, which yields a roughly comparable
"recurrence interval" of 100 million years. However, these "recurrence intervals" could get
dramatically shorter with the discovery of additional spherule layers. Moreover, the relict
crystallization textures commonly observed in early Precambrian spherules have not been
reported from any Phanerozoic impact spherules, so factors other than the flux of impactors need
to be taken into consideration. One possibility is that more impactors hit basaltic target rocks
early in Earth history due to the volume of continental crust being smaller and/or the oceans
being shallower on average (Simonson and Harnik 2000).

In summary, a small but growing number of layers rich in spherules and best interpreted as
distal ejecta from large impacts are being found in early Precambrian successions. These
spherule layers can teach us things about impacts in early Earth history we are unlikely to learn
from studies of craters and proximal ejecta alone, particularly concerning the environmental
effects of large impacts. The study of impact spherule layers is in its infancy. We predict more
spherule layers will be found, and as they are, we will gradually increase our understanding of
not only how they formed, but also the impacts that formed them and their effects on the early
Earth’s surface.


Byerly G.R., Kröner A., Lowe D.R., Todt W. and Walsh M.W. 1996 Prolonged magmatism and
time constraints for sediment deposition in the early Archean Barberton greenstone belt:
evidence from the Upper Onverwacht and Fig Tree Groups. Precambrian Research 78, 125-
Chapman C. R. and Morrison D. 1994. Impacts on the Earth by asteroids and comets: assessing
the hazard. Nature 367, 33-40.
Grieve R. A. F. 1998 Extraterrestrial impacts on earth: the evidence and the consequences. in
Grady M. M.; Hutchison R., McCall G. J. H. and Rothery D. A. eds., Meteorites: Flux with
Time and Impact Effects. Geological Society London Special Publication 140, 105-131.
Hassler S.W. and Simonson B.M. 2001 The sedimentary record of extraterrestrial impacts in
deep shelf environments – Evidence from the early Precambrian.. Journal of Geology 109, 1-

Lowe D.L., Byerly G.R., Asaro F. and Kyte F.J. 1989 Geological and geochemical record of
3400-million-year-old terrestrial meteorite impacts. Science 245, 959-962.
Simonson B.M. and Harnik P. 2000 Have distal impact ejecta changed through geologic time?
Geology 28, 975-978.
Simonson B.M., Davies, D., Wallace M., Reeves S. and Hassler S.W. 1998 Iridium anomaly but
no shocked quartz from Late Archean microkrystite layer: oceanic impact ejecta? Geology 26,
Simonson B.M., Koeberl C., McDonald I. and Reimold W.U. 2000 Geochemical evidence for an
impact origin for a Late Archean spherule layer, Transvaal Supergroup, South Africa. Geology
28, 1103-1106.
Simonson B.M., Cardiff M. and Schubel K.A. 2001 New evidence that a spherule layer in the
late Archean Jeerinah Formation of Western Australia was produced by a major impact. Lunar
and Planetary Science XXXII, abs. #1141.


Jan Smit, Vrije Universiteit , Amsterdam, Neterlands (

The majority of the extinctions at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary can be tied to the
Chicxulub impact, through correlation with the worldwide ejecta layer. However, the extinctions
may not be as instantaneous as generally assumed. A problem is the often complex geological
record, yielding a disturbed original sequence of extinction events. Oceanic calcareous planktic
biota (foraminifers, nannofossils) are almost instantaneously annihilated by the first after-effects
of the Chicxulub impact. That can best be observed in outer-shelf, sections at bathyal depth
(500-1500m). Here the few mm thick ejecta layer is preserved due to near cessation of
bioturbation caused by widespread anoxia. The overlying few mm to dm thick clay layer is
designated as 'strangelove ocean' or P0 zone, and represents the 'sterile' oceans, following the
impact event for several thousands of years. The CSDP Chicxulub drilling project (11 dec-2001-
febr 2002) may shed some light on this critical period. This period is important for the
evolutionary radiation following the Chicxulub event, and recent investigations show several
first appearances of new planktic foraminiferal species in this interval. The subsequent radiation
of these species is characterized by the rise and fall of successive dominant species, that do not
last long as a species. After just 50.000 years, the associations are stabilized again, and slow
evolutionary turnover prevails

Nannofossil extinctions are also tied to the impact event itself, as their abundance drops
immediately by an order of magnitude. Their tiny size makes them vulnerable for reworking,
however, and their true last occurrence is almost impossible to establish. In contrast to the
planktic foraminifers, the nannofossil species that radiate just above the K/T boundary, such as
the tiny N. romeinii, N. parvulum and C. primus already exist 0.5-1 million years before K/T,
e.g. in near-shore habitats in the Maastrichtian type area. These species are widely used as index
fossils for the basalmost Danian NP1 zone elsewhere, but will need some revision.

Dinoflagellate1 species are well known for their survival at the K/T boundary, due to their
cyst-forming capabilities. The dinocyst abundance in the p0 Zone is, in contrast to calcareous
plankton, extremely high. These organisms are therefore wel suited to record the initial climatic
changes following the KT impact. At the very base of the p0 clay in Kef, Tunisia, suddenly an
association is found of cold, boreal species, followed by an association of tropical species in the
overlying p0 clay. A short cold spell, followed by a prolonged (greenhouse) warm period is
inferred from these migration patterns.

Ammonites were thought to be declining to near extinction well before the KT boundary.
Peter Ward has subsequently shown them to remain highly diversified all the way up to the K/T
boundary. Recent research revealed baculitid and scaphitid survivors just above the K/T
boundary in the Maastricht type area (Netherlands)2 and the Fox Hills sandstone in South
Dakota3. Rudists and Inoceramid clams are highly characteritic of the Cretaceous period, and
their disappearance has often been linked to the KT boundary. Yet the Inoceramids disappear
about 3.6 million years before KT after a gradually decline over at least a million years. It is not
likely to add these highly specialized occupants of a niche vacated today to the victims of the

K/T boundary event. Rudist likewise display a decline prior to the K/T boundary, but there is
good evidence from Italy and Istria (Slovenia) that endemic reefs last up to the K/T boundary.

Research in dinosaur extinction has not yielded radical new insights for a decade or so, no
critical finds have been reported yet that shed new light on their disapparance. Yet the footprint
record still shows their demise to be related to the impact event. Their preceding slow decline is
more likely an artifact of the geological record, rather than a true decline leading up to

In conclusion, the picture emerging from KT boundary is that some decline in species
number has taken place in certain habitats before KT. But the crucial turnover of Cesozoic to
Cainozoic species is strongly related to the K/T boundary impact event, probably through a short
icehouse-greenhouse event.

Brinkhuis, H., J. P. Bujak, et al. (1998). "Dinoflagellate-based sea surface temperature
reconstructions across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary." Paleogeogr., Paleoclim.,
Paleoecol. 141: 67-83.
Smit, J. and H. Brinkhuis (1996). "The Geulhemmerberg Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary section
(Maastrichtian type area, SE Netherlands); summary of results and and a scenario of events".
75 (Special Issue Geol. & Mijnbouw): 283-293.
Terry, D. O., J. A. Chamberlain, et al. (2001). "Marine Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary section in
southwestern South Dakota." Geology 29(11): 1055-1058.


Roger E. Summons. Dept Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave E34-246, Cambridge MA 02139-4307, U.S.A.

Microscopic organisms are often overlooked as indicators and agents of global

environmental change on both short and long timescales. Most microbes leave no visible record
of their former presence and we can only infer their involvement in environmental and
geological processes from chemical clues left in the ocean, the atmosphere and rocks. Molecular
methods are providing new ways to track microbiologically driven processes. DNA cloned from
living microbes is one component of this and analyses of diagnostic lipids of living, recently
dead and fossilised organisms is another.

Biological marker compounds (biomarkers), which comprise the lipids of extant organisms
and also their hydrocarbon (i.e. fossil) counterparts carry diagnostic information in their
chemical structures and in their carbon and hydrogen isotopic compositions. Biomarkers can tell
us about the inhabitants of the oceans, lakes, rivers and sediments including sub-surface life, the
so-called deep biosphere. They reveal much about the biota of extreme environments, for
example, hydrothermal vents, and are proving an effective means to learn about microbes that
inhabited the early Earth and whose fossilised lipid remains are found trapped in rocks as old as
2.7 billion years.

If biological marker compounds are to be used with maximum confidence we need to

examine the degree to which biosynthetic pathways leading to diagnostic lipids closely parallel
the molecular phylogeny that has been established using small subunit r-RNA. The sterols from
eukarya, bacteriohapanepolyols from bacteria and isoprenoid ether lipids from archaea are all
markers which, with a few minor exceptions, are confined to those domains. A significant
amount of new research is directed toward seeking unambiguous biomarkers for taxa with
particular biological or geological significance. For example, studies of hyperthermophilic
organisms that cluster near to the base of the bacterial domain show that they have their own
particular class of ether lipid.

Biomarkers can be used as chemostratigraphic tools. For example, Early Triassic sediments
from Western Australia show molecular evidence for the radiation of dinoflagellates at that time.
In the same sedimentary section, bacteriohopanes which can be used to evaluate the processes of
cyanobacterial photosynthesis and methanotrophy, show dramatic fluctuations in their relative
abundances which might eventually provide valuable information about the biogeochemical
processing of carbon following the Permian extinction and subsequent radiation.


Peter Ward. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, The University of Washington, Seattle
WA 98195-1580, U.S.A.

The 1980 Alvarez Impact Hypothesis changed the paradigm for mass extinction events from
million to multi-million year, multi-causal events to thousand year (or less) single-cause events.
Since the appearance of this seminal hypothesis, investigators have attempted to fit other
members of the “Big Five” mass extinction events into the short term, single cause category.
New research on the P/T and T/J events based on field work in the Karoo of South Africa and the
Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia have resulted in new information about fossil
ranges and stable isotope signatures around each of these boundaries.

In the Karoo of South Africa, Ward et al (2000) have demonstrated that the extinction among
mammal-like reptiles was geologically rapid, and coincided with sedimentological evidence for
rapid environmental change. However, stable isotope records across this boundary suggest that
multiple perturbations occurred. It seems unlikely that a single event (such as a single asteroid
or comet impact) could have produced this pattern.

In the Queen Charlotte islands, a T/J boundary isotopic anomaly reported by Ward et al.
2001 corresponds with a highly significant extinction in marine plankton at both Kunga Island
and Kennecott Point. At Kunga Island more than 40 species of radiolarians disappear at this
level . Detailed biostratigraphic analysis of Kennecott Point radiolarians shows their
distributions to be similar to those of Kunga Island; the boundary here, as defined by
radiolarians, falls within a 5 meter stratigraphic interval. The highest Triassic ammonoid
recovered at Kennecott Point, Choristoceras rhaeticum is found within this interval as well,
based on new collections made in 2001. The end of the isotopic excursion coincides with the
appearance of earliest Jurassic radiolarians and, 8 meters above, by the lower (possibly lowest)
Hettangian ammonites.

The pattern of sudden extinction and the coincident and short stratal duration of the δ13Corg
excursion at the level of this extinction are compatible with a sudden biological crisis affecting
marine productivity.

These results suggest that a variety of causal hypotheses must still be entertained by those
attempting to understand mass extinctions.

Ward, P., D. Montgomery, and R. Smith. 2000. Altered River Morphology in South Africa
Related to the Permian-Triassic Extinction. Science v. 289: 1740-1743.
Ward, P. ,Haggart, J., Carter, E., tipper, H., and Evans, T. and others. 2001Sudden productivity
collapse associated with the Triassic/Jurassic boundary mass extinction. Science, Vol. 292,
11 May


John T. Wasson, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1567

The remarkable Tunguska event occurred on the morning of 30 Jun 1908. A large (≈40 m)
meteoroid was totally disrupted at an altitude of ≈8 km, the resulting explosion (here designated
an aerial burst) having an energy of ≈15 MT (TNT equivalent) [Vasilyev, 1998]. The blast
wave leveled trees over an area of about 2000 km2. The first field investigation two decades
later showed extensive evidence of charring of the forest debris; the maximum thermal pulse at
ground zero is estimated to be 238 J cm-2, sufficient to heat 0.16 g of dry continental crust to
1500 K and melt it.

Tunguska is one of a continuum that extends from events <103 times smaller to events >106
times larger. The smallest documented members of the set are the type-III fireballs recorded by
the cameras of fireball networks [Ceplecha et al., 1998] and several events recorded by military
satellites [Tagliaferri et al., 1995].

Two circumstances are required to generate aerial bursts appreciably larger in magnitude
than Tunguska: (1) the meteoroid must be weak enough to disrupt during atmospheric passage,
and (2) the atmospheric entry angle must be relatively oblique. Tunguska's entry angle was 20-
45° relative to the horizontal [Bronshten, 1999]. Modeling by Hills and Goda [1999] indicates
that a friable meteorite (strength of 1•108 dynes cm-2) coming in at an entry angle of 90° and a
geocentric velocity of 18 km s-1 will deposit more than half its energy in the atmosphere if it
radius is <100 m. These authors estimate that a 500 m projectile will lose half its energy at ≥10
km if its entry angle is 20°.

For Tunguska the blast effects were more dramatic than the thermal effects, but thermal
effects dominate as the size of the event increases. As the size of the burst increases, the central
region finds itself surrounded by hot atmosphere that is also hot, and loses its ability to cool itself
by radiation in directions other than vertical. Because there is so little mass above the hot gas,
expansion results in negligible cooling.

Below this central region we can expect vegetation to be fully incinerated. In moist,
vegetated areas or regions covered by water, much of the heat energy is expended on the latent
heat of vaporization of H2O and carbonaceous compounds, and little melting of the local soil
occurs. In contrast, if the surface below the burst is desert-like, the radiation is capable of
melting several mm of sand or rock.

When large (D>100 km) craters such as Chicxulub form, the ejecta is thrown above the
atmosphere and scattered all around the globe; its reentry into the atmosphere causes large
amounts of heating, creating conditions much like those resulting from an aerial burst. The chief
environmental difference is one of scale.

Materials which we interpret to be the products of giant aerial bursts are the layered tektites
found over a region having an area of ≈8•105 km2 in Southeast Asia and the Libyan Desert
Glass (LDG) found over a region having an area of ≈7•103 km2 in Western Egypt. These are
glassy materials which were formed by the melting of the local continental crust. Compositions
of tektites are about the same as the local continental crust; the LDG is ≈98% SiO2, similar in
composition to the adjacent Great Sand Sea. The layering common to these materials is inferred
to have resulted from down-slope flow of a melt sheet; this flow requires that temperatures
remained high (>2400 K) for several minutes.

In the past such materials were ascribed to ejection from craters. However, there is no
evidence that large amounts of fully molten (free of unmelted clasts) materials are ever ejected
from terrestrial craters, and any such ejecta would be expected to quench when it returns to the
surface rather than to flow tens of cm. In addition, melt production is most efficient at the
bottoms of relatively large craters, whereas layered tektites have high 10Be contents requiring
that much or most of the target have been a surficial soil originating <1 m from the surface.

The very low density (1.3 g cm-3) of the asteroid Mathilde [Veverka et al., 1999] suggests
that it is a flying rubble pile. It is plausible that a sizable fraction of asteroids and comets are
primordial materials that were never compacted, and have essentially no strength. Thus, many of
the asteroids striking the Earth may be these strengthless objects. In support of this view is the
high fraction of low-strength fireballs observed by the photographic networks. According to
Ceplecha et al. [1998], only 32% of photographed meteoroids are as strong as anhydrous
chondrites. Another 33% are friable, having strengths similar to CM chondrites, and the
remaining 35% are designated “cometary” because they break up very high.

A potential problem is how to account for the very large areas in which the layered tektites and
Libyan Desert Glass are found. This seems to require oblique entry into the atmosphere and
possibly (similar to many comets) breakup in deep space prior to atmospheric entry. However,
preliminary modeling by James Lyons (pers. comm., 2002) suggests that atmospheric shock
waves transmit energy large (tens of km) distances from the site where most of the energy is
deposited, and that this effect may significantly increase the lateral extent of the heated portion
of the atmosphere.

It is therefore plausible that aerial bursts should comprise an important fraction of the
accretionary events occurring on the Earth. When tektite-size events occur, much of the above
ground part of the biosphere will be incinerated, leaving a virgin area that may encourage

Bronshten V. A. (1999) The nature of the Tunguska Meteorite. Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 34, 723-
Ceplecha Z., Borovicka J., Elford W. G., Hawkes R. L., Porubcan V., and Simek M. (1998)
Meteor phenomena and bodies. Space Sci. Rev. 84, 327-471.
Hills J. G. and Goda M. P. (1998) Damage from the impacts of small asteroids. Planet. Space
Sci. 46, 219-229.

Tagliaferri E., Spalding R., Jacobs C., Worden S. P., and Erlich A. (1994) Detection of
meteoroid impacts by optical sensors in earth orbit. In Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids,
(ed. T. Gehrels), pp. 199-220. University of Arizona Press.
Vasilyev N. V. (1998) The Tunguska meteorite problem today. Planet. Space. Sci. 46, 129-150.
Veverka J., Thomas P., Harch A., Clark B., Bell J. F., Carcich B., and Joseph J. (1999) NEAR
encounter with asteroid 253 Mathilde: overview. Icarus 140, 3-16.


Paul R. Weissman, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MS 183-601, Pasadena, CA 91109 U.S.A.

Impacts on the Earth by comets and asteroids are common events on geologic time scales.
More than 150 terrestrial impact craters and structures have been recognized and studied. At
present, it is estimated that a 20 km diameter crater is formed on the Earth (or a comparable
impact occurs in the oceans) about once every 3.5 _ 10 5 years (Grieve 1995). That rate, derived
from the cratering record, is consistent with that expected from the observed populations of
comets and asteroids in Earth-crossing orbits.

The flux of potential impactors on the Earth is made up of: 1) asteroids, derived almost
entirely from the main belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter; 2) short-period or
AJupiter-family@ comets derived from the Kuiper belt, a belt of remnant icy planetesimals
beyond the orbit of Neptune; and 3) intermediate and long-period comets, also known as
AHalley-type@ and AOort cloud@ comets, respectively, derived from the Oort cloud, a vast
spherical cloud of comets surrounding the solar system at near-interstellar distances (Weissman
1996). The Oort cloud comets likely originated as icy planetesimals in between the orbits of the
giant planets, Jupiter through Neptune, and were dynamically ejected out to their current distant
orbits during the formation of the solar system. All of the potential Earth impactors are transient
populations that must be continually resupplied as objects either strike one of the planets (or the
Sun) or are dynamically ejected from the system due to close planetary encounters. Dynamical
lifetimes for near-Earth asteroids are ~1B30 Myr, while for comets they are typically only ~0.5
Myr (Levison and Duncan 1997). The difference is caused by the fact that the comets are almost
always on Jupiter-crossing orbits, and Jupiter=s large gravity is able to dispose of objects
crossing its orbit much more quickly.

It is currently estimated that there are ~700 asteroids brighter than absolute magnitude H =
18, corresponding to radii larger than ~0.5 km, in Earth-crossing orbits. Approximately half of
that number have actually been found, thanks to automated surveys that have greatly increased
the discovery rate in recent years. About 56% of these asteroids are S-type or stony asteroids,
while the remainder are C-type or carbonaceous. Also, perhaps 3% of the Earth-crossing
asteroids are iron-nickel composition but these do not seem to be present among the ones larger
than 0.5 km radius. The average impact probability for a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) in an Earth-
crossing orbit is 2.8 _ 10 _9 year_1 and the mean impact velocity is ~20 km sec_1. Some fraction of
the NEA=s, perhaps 6B10%, are believed to be extinct cometary nuclei, no longer able to
produce visible comae (Rabinowitz et al. 1995; Bottke et al. 2001).

Comets are made up of roughly equal parts of volatile ices (primarily water ice), silicate dust,
and carbonaceous dust, all intimately mixed. Approximately 10 Jupiter-family comets in Earth-
crossing orbits have been discovered; the total number is likely not more than 20. The JF comets
have typical impact probabilities of ~1.3 _ 10 _9 year_1, and mean impact velocities of ~23 km sec-
. Approximately 10 Halley-type comets are also known to be in Earth-crossing orbits, with the
total number possibly as large as 100. These have much lower impact probabilities of ~0.16 _
10_9 year_1 because of their longer orbital periods, but considerably higher impact velocities, ~52

km sec_1, because of their larger orbital eccentricities and inclinations. About 10 long-period
comets cross the orbit of the Earth every year, with a mean impact probability of 2.2 _ 10 _9 for
each comet passage and a mean impact velocity of ~56 km sec_1. Although comets likely make
up only a few percent of all terrestrial impactors, their higher impact velocities result in comets
being responsible for perhaps 10B20% of all major impacts (Weissman 1990). The sizes of
cometary nuclei are poorly determined but are typically a few kilometers.

The flux of potential impactors will vary stochastically as comets and asteroids are randomly
injected into Earth-crossing orbits. However, the flux of Oort cloud comets can undergo large
fluctuations. The flux of long-period comets varies by about a factor of 4 with a period of ~33
Myr as the solar system=s galactic orbit carries the Sun and planets above and below the galactic
plane. The solar system has recently passed through the galactic plane so the present cometary
flux is expected to be near a maximum. More substantial variations in the long-period comet
flux, up to a factor of ~300, can occur if a star passes directly through the Oort cloud, or if the
solar system encounters a giant molecular cloud in the galaxy. Major cometary showers are
expected to occur every ~300-500 Myr, with more modest showers every 30-50 Myr.
Examination of the current orbital distribution of comets suggests that the solar system is not
presently experiencing a cometary shower.

Several mechanisms have been suggested for causing periodic cometary showers from the
Oort cloud, such as a 10th planet or a distant red dwarf star orbiting the Sun, but all of these have
been rejected on dynamical grounds and/or for lack of evidence.

Bottke, W. F., Morbidelli, A., Jedicke, R., Petit, J.-M., Levison, H., Michel, P., and Metcalfe, T.
S. (2001) Debiased orbital and size distributions of near-Earth objects. Icarus, in press.
Grieve, R. A. F. (1995) Target Earth: Evidence for large-scale impact events. In Near-Earth
Objects, Annals of the NY Acad. Sci. 822, 319-352.
Levison, H. F., and Duncan, M. J. (1997) From the Kuiper belt to Jupiter-family comets: The
spatial distribution of ecliptic comets. Icarus 127, 13-32.
Rabinowitz, D., Bowell, E., Shoemaker, E., and Muinonen, K. (1995) The population of Earth-
crossing asteroids. In Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids, ed. T. Gehrels (Univ. Arizona
Press, Tucson), pp. 285-312.
Weissman, P. R. (1990) The cometary impactor flux at the Earth. In Global Catastrophes in
Earth History, eds. V. L. Sharpton and P. D. Ward, Geol. Soc. Amer. SP 247, pp. 171-180.
Weissman, P. R. (1996) The Oort cloud. In Completing the Inventory of the Solar System, eds.
T. W. Rettig and J. M. Hahn, ASP Conf. Ser. 107, 265-288.


Kevin Zahnle. NASA Ames Research Center, MS 245-3, Moffett Field, CA 94035 U.S.A.

It is more useful to define the Hadean Eon as the time when impacts ruled the Earth than to
define it as the time before the rock record. For decades now it has been obvious that the
coincidence between the timing of the end of the lunar late bombardment and the appearance of a
rock record on Earth is probably not just a coincidence. I doubt I am pointing out something that
the reader hasn't long ago given thought to. While the Moon was struck by tens of basin-forming
impactors (~100 km objects making ~1000 km craters), the Earth was struck by hundreds of
similar objects, and by tens of objects much larger still. The largest would have been big enough
to evaporate the oceans, and the ejecta massive enough to envelope the Earth in 100 m of rock
rain. Smaller impacts were also more frequent. On average, a Chicxulub fell every 100,000
years. When one imagines the Hadean one imagines it with craters and volcanos: crater oceans
and crater lakes, a scene of mountain rings and island arcs and red lava falling into a steaming
sea under an ash-laden sky. I don't know about the volcanos, but the picture of abundant impact
craters makes good sense --the big ones, at least, which feature several kilometers of relief, are
not likely to have eroded away on time scales of less than ten million years, and so there were
always several of these to be seen at any time in various states of decay. The oceans would have
been filled with typically hundreds of meters of weathered ejecta, most of which was ultimately
subducted but taking with them whatever they reacted with at the time --CO2 was especially
vulnerable to this sort of scouring. The climate, under a faint sun and with little CO2 to warm it,
may have been in the median extremely cold, barring the intervention of biogenic greenhouse
gases (such as methane), with on occasion the cold broken by brief (10s to 1000s of years)
episodes of extreme heat and steam following the larger impacts. In sum, the age of impacts
seems sufficiently unlike the more familiar Archaean that came after that it seems useful to give
this time its own name, a name we already have, and that, if applied to the Hadean that I have
described, actually has some geological value.