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“Ultraviolet spring” and the ecological consequences of catastrophic impacts

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Abstract

Asteroid and comet impacts cause ozone depletion. For the first time, we have quantified the photobiological characteristics of these events and speculate on some of the associated ecological consequences. Following the clearing of stratospheric dust after “impact winter”, levels of damaging UVB radiation (280–315 nm) could increase by at least 100%, resulting in an “ultraviolet spring”. Many of the taxa stressed by the cold and dark conditions of impact are the same that would be stressed by large increases in UVB radiation. Furthermore, depletion of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) by impact-induced acid rain would increase UVB penetrability into freshwater systems. Although an increase in UVB radiation is an attractive hypothesis for exacerbating the demise of land animals at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary, e.g. dinosaurs, our calculations suggest the impact into rare sulphate-rich target rock may have prevented an ultraviolet spring in this case. If the K/T impact event had occurred in any other region on Earth, the stress to the biosphere would probably have been considerably greater.

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