Evolutionary Catastrophes: The Science of Mass Extinction



The stories behind the greatest scientific controversies are more than entertaining. They provide windows into the evolution of scientific thought, scientific method, technological achievements and their research applications, and the influence of individuals and personalities on a community's acceptance of a theory Epic controversies surround the theories for Earth's mass extinction events, and none is more spectacular than the continuing polemic over the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) mass extinctions and ultimate demise of the dinosaurs.

In contrast to other great scientific debates, we tend to view the K/T event in the context of a crime scene, where the spectacularly diverse flora and fauna of a primordial Eden were unwittingly slain by one or more ruthless and efficient killers. A “foreign” suspect has been fingered; an intruder that killed suddenly and randomly has become the principal suspect. The main clues uncovered in the case include a global K/T iridium anomaly; shock-deformed minerals in K/T boundary sediments; the ˜6 5 m.y-old Deccan flood-basalt province, which covered an area roughly the size of France; and the ˜6 5 m.y-old Chicxulub impact crater in the Yucatan peninsula, which seems to be among the largest to have formed in the inner solar system over the past billion years.