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Chicxulub impact predates the K-T boundary

mass extinction
Gerta Keller*†, Thierry Adatte‡, Wolfgang Stinnesbeck§, Mario Rebolledo-Vieyra¶, Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi储,
Utz Kramar**, and Doris Stüben**
*Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540; ‡Institute of Geology, University of Neuchatel, 2007 Neuchatel, Switzerland;
§Geological Institute and **Institute for Mineralogy and Geochemistry, University of Karlsruhe, D-76128 Karlsruhe, Germany; ¶Laboratoire des Sciences du

Climat et l’Environnement, Unité Mixte de Recherche Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique–Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, Bât 12, Avenue de
la Terrasse, 91198 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France; and 储Instituto de Geofisica, Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City,
CP 04510, Mexico

Communicated by W. Jason Morgan, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, January 20, 2004 (received for review October 3, 2003)

Since the early l990s the Chicxulub crater on Yucatan, Mexico, has
been hailed as the smoking gun that proves the hypothesis that an
asteroid killed the dinosaurs and caused the mass extinction of
many other organisms at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary
65 million years ago. Here, we report evidence from a previously
uninvestigated core, Yaxcopoil-1, drilled within the Chicxulub
crater, indicating that this impact predated the K-T boundary by
⬇300,000 years and thus did not cause the end-Cretaceous mass
extinction as commonly believed. The evidence supporting a pre-
K-T age was obtained from Yaxcopoil-1 based on five independent
proxies, each with characteristic signals across the K-T transition:
sedimentology, biostratigraphy, magnetostratigraphy, stable iso-
topes, and iridium. These data are consistent with earlier evidence
for a late Maastrichtian age of the microtektite deposits in north-
eastern Mexico.

T he search for the K-T impact crater effectively ended in the

GEOLOGY
early l990s with the discoveries of the Chicxulub crater and
its estimated diameter between 180 and 280 km (1–4). The
impact ejecta (microtektites) in Haiti and northeastern Mexico
(5, 6) and melt rock in the Chicxulub cores have similar
geochemistry, and the 39Ar兾40Ar ages are within ⫾200,000
years (200 ky) of the K-T boundary (7, 8). These observations
made a convincing case for Chicxulub as the long-sought K-T
boundary impact crater and cause for the end-Cretaceous mass
extinction. But doubts persisted regarding the precise age and Fig. 1. Location of core Yax-1 and other Yucatan cores relative to seismic
size of the impact crater (2–4, 9), the origin of the so-called lines and the proposed crater size superimposed over the gravimetric anomaly
megatsunami deposits (5, 10–12), and the nature of the mass map.
extinction (13, 14). To resolve these issues, the International
Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) supported the
which indicate reworking and high-energy current transport
drilling of a new core within the Chicxulub crater (Yaxcopoil-1
after deposition of the impact (suevite) breccia.
drilled between December 2001 and February 2002) with the Above the suevite breccia, with a disconformity separating the
stated objectives to determine the precise age of the crater and two, are 50 cm of finely laminated dolomitic and micritic
its link to the global K-T boundary layer, to unravel Chicxulub’s limestones that contain Late Maastrichtian microfossils. A glau-
role in the K-T mass extinction, and to study the cratering event conitic clay (16) above this 50-cm-thick interval can be identified
and size of the impact crater (15). as the K-T boundary based on the presence of early Danian
Chicxulub Core Yaxcopoil-1 (Yax-1) microfossils in the overlying strata.
Consequently, the suevite breccia that marks the Chicxulub
Yax-1 is located 40 km southwest of Merida, Mexico, and ⬇60 impact is within Late Maastrichtian sediments and below the
km from the center of the Chicxulub structure (Fig. 1). A K-T boundary. This suggests two possibilities: (i) the sediments
continuous core sequence was recovered from 400 to 1,511 m between the breccia and the K-T boundary were deposited as
below the surface (15).††‡‡ Between 794.65 and 894 m, a 100- backwash and crater infill after the impact event, or (ii) the
m-thick impact (suevite) breccia overlies a 617-m-thick sequence Chicxulub impact predates the K-T boundary and hence was not
of horizontally layered shallow-water lagoonal to subtidal Cre-
taceous limestones, dolomites, and anhydrites. The first 85 m of
the impact (suevite) breccia consist primarily of clasts from these Abbreviations: K-T, Cretaceous-Tertiary; ky, thousand years; XRD, x-ray diffraction; Yax-1,
underlying shallow-water lithologies, some crystalline rocks of Yaxcopoil-1.
continental basement origin, and devitrified glass (Cheto smec- †To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: gkeller@princeton.edu.
tite) fragments and spherules.†† The upper 15 m of the breccia ††Stinnesbeck, W., Keller, G., Adatte, T. & Stueben, D. (2003) Geophys. Res. Abstr. 5, 10868.

are stratified with alternating layers of upward fining clasts (3–5 ‡‡Smit,
J., Dressler, B. O., Buffler, R., Moran, D., Sharpton, V. L., Stoeffler, D., Urrutia, J. &
cm at the base to 2–5 mm at the top), coarse cross-bedding Morgan, J. (2003) Geophys. Res. Abstr. 5, 06498.
structures, and gray friable sand layers in the top meter, all of © 2004 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA

www.pnas.org兾cgi兾doi兾10.1073兾pnas.0400396101 PNAS 兩 March 16, 2004 兩 vol. 101 兩 no. 11 兩 3753–3758

The 50-cm interval below the K-T above the K-T boundary. along with the abrupt appearance of the upper zone Plc (2) 3754 兩 www. interval (samples 5 and 6). and Globanomalina compressa. 2.g.pnas. and iridium Cretaceous species). The boundary is charac.0400396101 Keller et al. and Globoconusa daubjergensis. Note that zones P0. stable isotopes (bulk carbonate).11 m. including sedimentology. ⬇50 missing. (The low value in the dolomite sample another abrupt change occurs in the species assemblage to larger 21 is due to diagenetic effects. Subbotina triloculinoides. K-T boundary (Fig. 2).to 5-cm sample spacing) and with 2 cm above the K-T boundary green clay and disconformity and all available methods. Parvularugoglobigerina eugubina.to 3-cm-hick dark gray-green marly limestone with from planktic foraminiferal assemblages and magnetostratigra- a 3. and probably the uppermost part of zone CF1 are missing.org兾cgi兾doi兾10. plus rare reworked tostratigraphy. followed by the characteristic negative excur. .74.85 m) at high resolution (2. Early Danian zones P0 and Pla are correlative with C29r erosional disconformity. microfossils (thin sections). It is clear that 7 cm above the Tertiary (19.05 m marks the loss of zone Plb and the lower part of Plc. The change appears to occur more than 4 cm above the K-T and probably part of the uppermost Maastrichtian. above the breccia. although only one data point occurs.81.) Iridium concentrations are within size. In the overlying mottled.29 ng兾g at the believed.65– The First Tertiary (Danian) planktic foraminifera are present 793. cm above the impact breccia (Fig. 20). bioturbated 5-cm (instrumental neutron activation analysis) analyses. The K-T boundary is identified at 794. Four sam. and 876. The missing interval at the K-T boundary can be estimated terized by a 2. At Yax-1 this interval is represented by only the K-T boundary the core is normally magnetized (in chron 6 cm of the upper zone Pla and C29r. the top of the impact breccia to the Early Tertiary (794. Eoglobigerina sp.02. along with well developed Parasubbotina pseudobul- were analyzed for comparison with the overlying strata... The absence of an Ir anomaly and the To determine the age of the Chicxulub impact and the nature short interval of C29r above the K-T boundary suggest a hiatus. which spans about the first 275 ky of boundary is in reversed polarity C29r.to 4-mm-thick green glauconitic clay (17) that marks an phy. magne. clay minerals indicate zone Pla (e. Woodringina horner- microscope analyses]. 861. most of Pla. Five sediment and age-related proxies reveal Late Maastrichtian pelagic sediments overlying the impact breccia in the Chicxulub core Yax-1. This may boundary. Stable carbon explain the absence of the characteristic Ir anomaly that marks isotopes show the high ␦13C values of the Late Maastrichtian the K-T boundary worldwide. these early Danian species are ples within the breccia (at 827.1073兾pnas. The absence of the Ir anomaly is likely due to the hiatus that spans the K-T boundary. indicating ⬎250 ky missing 29n). 851. sion at the K-T boundary. In addition. 2). the cause of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction as commonly the range of background values and only reach 0.Fig. of sediment deposition we studied this critical core interval from as also indicated by biostratigraphy. the hiatus at 794. which are characteristic of an upper Pla assemblage and suggests Age of Chicxulub Impact that the earliest Danian interval (zones P0 and lower Pla) is K-T Boundary. Parvu- [x-ray diffraction (XRD) and environmental scanning electron laugoglobigerina extensa.37 m) common. loides. stownensis. In the marly limestone at 6 cm above the K-T boundary.

although the level rise during the latest Maastrichtian. correlative with the upper part of magnetochron C29r below the K-T boundary. texture. Alternatively. backwash). constraints for deposition of this unit in addition to magne. P. Globotruncana arca (sample 9). quiet water present in all laminated micritic limestone samples. Hedbergella sp. R. eugubina and presence of Pre- GEOLOGY val are of high diversity with small and large. image 4. retained the species morphology and the lighter colored ing may have been caused by the crater excavation and the sea shell calcite relative to the surrounding micrite.. absence of P. PNAS 兩 March 16. 3. various older age intervals should be clear. Planktic foraminiferal assemblages within the 50-cm inter- assemblage (e. the impact event in a low-energy hemipelagic environment that although they are invariably recrystallized and poorly preserved was deep enough (⬇100 m) to support planktic foraminifera and in these micritic limestones. The deepen- ever. microfossils are abundantly present. 4). Fig. burrowing benthic communities. image 3. (Scale bar ⫽ 100 ␮m for images 1–3. could the 50-cm-thick laminated micritic lime- stones and Late Maastrichtian foraminifera represent reworking by backwash and crater infill after deposition of the impact breccia? Microfossil evidence suggests that this is not the case for several reasons.g. texture is still visible. sample microlayers or patches of anhedral dolomite crystals and a 21) characterized by dolomite rhombs. supported active.g.05 m) with Maastrichtian zone CF1 age. image 9. we show them age of the impact. 101 兩 no. Globotruncanella petaloidea. W. Such uniform assemblages. explained by backwash and crater infill. These zone CF1 assemblages therefore indicate that deposition of the 50 cm of laminated micritic limestones occurred after the Chicxulub impact and before the K-T bound- ary mass extinction. image 11. Globotruncanita falsocalcarata. was a shallow subtidal environment that did not support hornerstownensis (sample 1). including diverse clasts and faunal elements from the impact breccia and the underlying lithologies and their shallow-water benthic foraminifera. To illustrate that these forms are foraminifera and to critical test of in situ versus backwash deposition and hence the differentiate them from crystalline sediments. Five thin green clayey microclast layers are embedded in Keller et al.g. and Globigerinelloides aspera (Figs. Planktic foraminifera within environment with burrowing organisms on the ocean floor.) Early Paleocene zones Pla-Plc: image 1. Rosita walfishensis. Late Maastrich. Het- erohelix. 2 and 3). although conditions. Globotruncana insignis (sample 20). After the impact these pseudobulloides (sample 5). image 6. cannot be indicated by the magnetic polarity change from C29r to C29n. ment of the precursor limestone with the original laminated The planktic assemblages consist of characteristic Late Maas. P. the four glauconitic layers within the 50-cm interval below indicates that deposition occurred in a normal sedimentary Age of Unit Between Breccia and K-T. as also and the absence of older reworked species. No evidence for such reworking exists in the critical 50 cm between the breccia unit and the K-T boundary. how. No consists predominantly of laminated micritic limestones with foraminifera are preserved in the dolomitic layers (e. We show Depositional Environment. The nature and depositional environ- representative species from various intervals at a magnification ment of the 50-cm interval between the disconformities at the that still permits recognition of characteristic species morphol. The evidence thus indicates that the Late Maastrichtian tostratigraphy. 3. 2004 兩 vol. The micritic Diverse and abundant planktic foraminiferal assemblages are limestones indicate deposition under low-energy. Rosita contusa (sample 9). Backwash and crater infill requires high-energy currents to erode and transport material. and transported over great distances from the open ocean Rugoglobigerina macrocephala (sample 9). including Globotruncanita stuarti. 1. contusa. but they are K-T and early Danian hiatuses of these magnitudes have been consistent with in situ deposition in a low-energy hemipe- observed throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico (21) and lagic environment. structures and of diverse clasts and diverse species from image 10. Plummerita hantkeninoides (sample 20). trichtian zone CF1 species. thin. images 7 and 8. Examination of thin sections reveal the laminated planktic foraminiferal assemblages were deposited in situ after intervals to be rich in Late Maastrichtian planktic foraminifera. arca. Zone CF1 spans the last 300 ky of the Cretaceous.. whereas the dolomite formed by diagenetic replace- benthic foraminifera are less common (mostly buliminellids). the 50-cm-thick laminated dolomitic and micritic limestones If these deposits consisted of high-energy backwash and between the breccia and K-T boundary provide critical age current reworking. Thin-section micrographs of Late Maastrichtian and Early Paleocene planktic foraminifera from Yax-1. burrows could not have been preserved. G. Sedimentary structures indicate a variable depositional his- insignis. G. The 50-cm interval embedded in the darker surrounding micritic limestone. in the deep sea globally (20) and may be linked to intensified 4. zone Plb and the lower part of zone Plc(l) missing. This interpretation can images at very high magnification show the crystalline micrite be further tested based on the nature of sediment deposition. R. 11 兩 3755 . This marks another major hiatus (794. and all are characteristic of the latest pentagona). Before the impact. fscale 2.. mac- rocephala. For this reason. No evidence for any of the above exists.and murica inconstans. Eoglobigerina trivialis. hantkeninoides. nor does sedimentary evidence exist for a high-energy depositional environment (see below). image 2. P. magnification of species is limited (⫻100–200) and the images are often fuzzy (Fig. Rugoglobigerina (e. The recrystallization process. P. Abathomphalus tory. whether K-T or pre-K-T. and Globanomalina thick-shelled species. inconstans (sample 4). If they were eroded tian Zone CF1: image 5. mayaroensis. the evidence of high-energy sedimentary rugosa (samples 19 and 12). 3). the Yucatan shelf in the Chicxulub area bar ⫽ 200 ␮m for images 4 –11. planktic foraminiferal assemblages. The presence of burrows below the K-T boundary and in deep-water currents during the Early Paleocene. 5-cm-thick dolomite layer at the base (Fig.. R. rugosa. top of the impact breccia and the K-T boundary provides another ogies. eugubina (sample 6).

5A). of microclasts and the green clay reveal a glauconite XRD which is a typical altered glass product. . 4). favored deposition of laminated limestones. 5.40 m) are mechanically Glass is very rare in the entire 50-cm interval. below the K-T is strongly burrowed by invertebrates. 861.24. we have analyzed four samples from the breccia at depths tometer x-ray analysis that indicates a glauconitic composition (shaded inter- of 827. the oblique bedding in low-energy laminated sediment deposition. and 794. The insoluble residues of these intervals reveal that the microclasts Fig. No breccia clasts were observed. XRD analyses of these val).1073兾pnas. 5). The five microclast and green clay layers comparison. which is from the green layers of samples 13 and 17. Sediments at the core break (794. clast generation. which was probably related to changes in that locally changed the seabed slope. Bioturbation is common in and around the disturbed by drilling. This finding suggests that an active benthic a low-energy environment with little current activity. 851. Glauconite forms at chlorhydric acid used in preparation of insoluble residues.45 and 794. some of Sedimentology of the 50-cm interval overlying the suevite which may have penetrated to form the larger isolated burrow at breccia thus indicates that the postimpact deposition occurred in 794.Fig. the absence of glauconite followed by sediment winnowing. 794. 794. each with glauconite and兾or glauconite-coated microclasts (see Fig.11 m. Note the four distinct green microlayers (⬍1 cm). microscope micrograph of the K-T green clay (sample 8) with electron diffrac- ison. winnowing.52 m may more active winnowing activity before the K-T boundary and be due to compaction兾settling of the underlying ejecta material again at the boundary. For compar.37 m. The tiny extensional sea level. But this environ- tion and argues against rapid deposition by backwash. clast generation.34–794. and 9 –21. However.pnas. (Note that the Cl peak is due to the characteristic of altered glass (22) (Fig. XRD analysis environmental scanning electron microscope and XRD analyses of breccia samples shows the presence of well crystallized Cheto smectite. 4. therefore indicate long pauses in the overall quiet depositional environment with reduced sedimentation and the formation of been formed by slightly agitated waters.50 m may also have formation of glauconite. with insert marking location of analysis.34 m.) The glauconite the sediment–water interface in environments with very slow reference standard from the SEM Petrology Atlas (18) is shown for detritus accumulation.org兾cgi兾doi兾10. allowing the syn-sedimentary growth faults around 794. The XRD diffractogram of this green clay indicates the presence of mature glauconite (17).19. C and D show similar glauconitic compositions for insoluble residue grains breccia intervals show the presence of Cheto smectite. In contrast. which community thrived on the ocean floor during sediment deposi.02.43. 5) with no altered glass present.35. 794.19.81. but their gray-green color suggests a microclast layers at 794.53 m may have The scarcity of glass or breccia clasts in these sediments. 7. and 876.34 and 794.0400396101 Keller et al. Each time. feature. (A) Thin-section micrograph of the green K-T clay layer (sample 8) are of glauconite origin and兾or have in situ glauconite coating. grain-size changes suggests that this could be a diagenetic and small-scale transport by minor current activity.) Sedimentary features of most sample intervals are shown in thin-section micrographs with numbers keyed to the sample location in the litholog. 794.24. and transport before the return of In the lower part of the 50-cm interval. the latter marks the K-T boundary (Fig.74. Litholog of the 50-cm interval between the disconformities at the top of the breccia and the K-T boundary. (B) Environmental scanning electron pattern (17) (Fig. and 794. ment was interrupted four times for prolonged times with slightly The change in the dip angle between 794. three thin (1-cm) layers between 794. 4). sedimentation was reduced.1 mm for samples 6 and 8 and 1 mm for samples 1–5. laminated limestones at 794. (Scale bar ⫽ 0. the 3756 兩 www.31 m (Fig. which was then followed by sediment been caused by this process. and the interval glauconite component as in the green layers above and below.

Proposed correlation of Chicxulub impact breccia in core Yax-1 with the oldest microtektite layer in Late Maastrichtian marls of the Mendez Formation at El Penon and Loma Cerca in northeastern Mexico (22. PNAS 兩 March 16. where impact ejecta layers (microtektites) have been discovered interbedded in Late Pre-K-T Age of Chicxulub Impact. 1). 2004 兩 vol. or iridium data do not support a K-T boundary age for ogy rules out backwash and crater infill for the 50-cm interval the Chicxulub impact. 11 兩 3757 . and short- lub impact predates the K-T boundary. Chicxulub impact. the oldest These sediments indicate a quiet hemipelagic environment. Magnetostratigraphy indicates C29r below crater (Fig. The age of the Chicxulub impact Maastrichtian marls in numerous localities (23). and the repeated pauses and formation Other Evidence of Pre-K-T Age. which spans the last 300 ky of PEMEX well C1 located near the center of the Chicxulub of the Maastrichtian. with no evidence of folding ary. The pre-K-T age determined from of glauconite provide no evidence for rapid deposition related to Yax-1 adds to the accumulating evidence of a pre-K-T age for the backwash and crater infill for this 50-cm-thick interval. and the age of the planktic foraminiferal curred during the late Maastrichtian zone CF1 with the oldest assemblages within these sediments. whereas the sedimentol. between the breccia and K-T boundary. We consider the breccia is marked by a disconformity and the K-T boundary is lowermost microtektite layer as the original ejecta from the marked by a green glauconitic clay that forms another discon. GEOLOGY Fig. the nature of sediment deposition between the breccia and or faulting. 6). Also. isotope. Based on these data. low-energy environment. At Yax-1 the top of the layer near the base of the zone (23. which also suggests that the Chicuxu- resulted in reduced sediment deposition. Bioturbation at these horizons and the K-T A pre-K-T age for the Chicxulub impact was first suggested by boundary indicate an ocean floor colonized by invertebrates. All three age proxies are thus consistent with a pre-K-T thick. based on electric log correlations and determined to be ⬇18 m trichtian. 101 兩 no. (We consider the younger microtektite layers that are interbedded in marls to be reworked. This Late Maastrichtian unit overlying the impact the K-T boundary. breccia was also identified by Ward et al. Lopez Ramos (25) based on abundant late Maastrichtian plank- The planktic foraminiferal assemblages within these sedi. Chicxulub impact in northeastern Mexico. 6. (9) in well Sacapuc-1 tian. the ␦13C values are characteristic of the Late Maas.) The Ir anomaly in northeastern Mexico is at the K-T boundary. distance transport. as indicated by common marl micritic limestones interrupted by four glauconitic horizons. In between are 50 cm of laminated dolomitic and peatedly reworked by currents. 24) (Fig. magnetostratigraphic. Planktic foraminifera indicate that deposition oc- the K-T boundary. Based on biostratigraphy and sediment accumulation rates. To date biostratigraphic. whereas the upper layers appear to be re- formity. which spans the last 570 ky of the Maastrich. interbedded in 10 m of pelagic marls. winnowing. multiple-impact scenario with impacts during the Late Maas- Keller et al. 24). stable age for the underlying impact breccia. the Chicxulub impact predates the K-T boundary and occurred Multiple Impacts and Mass Extinction sometime during the early part of zone CF1 and the middle part The pre-K-T age of the Chicxulub impact lends support to a of C29r below the K-T boundary. clasts and shallow-water benthic foraminifera and debris. At El Peñon and can now be determined from the Yax-1 core based on the 25 km northeast at Loma Cerca four microtektite layers are stratigraphic position of the breccia relative to the K-T bound. microtektite layer at these Mexican sites was deposited ⬇300 ky interrupted at times by slightly increased current activity that before the K-T boundary. tic foraminifera in marls and limestones above the impact breccia ments are characteristic of zone CF1.

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