Two scientists at the California Institute of Technology (CIT) have pro-posed that an asteroid slammed into the ocean and triggered a three-mile-high tidal wave that swept around the earth at a speed of 450 miles an hour, silting over low- lying vegetation and destroying the food chain the dinosaurs depended on.

The original asteroid-impact theory, proposed by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez, held that 65 million years ago, a six-mile-wide asteroid collided with the earth at 56,000 miles an hour, sending up a thick dust cloud that reduced sunlight to one tenth the brightness of moonlight for three years, thereby wiping out the food chain [See GEO, April, 1981 page 149].

Some months later, a second scenario was put forth, proposing that the extinction was caused not by the dust cloud but by an immediate rise in continental and ocean temperatures of 18 degrees Fahrenheit, which would have been enough to . destroy the dinosaurs’ food sources [See GEO, August, 1981, page 138]. The authors of this theory geophysicist Thomas Ahrens and planetary scientist John O ’Keefe —are also the authors of the new tidal-wave scenario.

Ahrens and O’Keefe now calculate tha t four seconds after an ocean impact, the asteroid would have created a 25-mile-wide, 20-mile-deep cavity containing superheated water and vaporized rock and covered by a steam bubble 25 miles high. The resulting tidal wave would have taken 27 hours to ripple around the world.

The crater has not been found and may never be, because 51 percent of the ocean floor that existed 65 million years ago has been recirculated into the earth’s interior by subduction.

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