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The environmental disaster of Aznalcóllar (southern Spain) as an approach to the Cretaceous–Palaeogene mass extinction event


Corresponding author: F. J. Rodríguez-Tovar. Tel.: +34 958 242724; fax: +34 958 248528; e-mail:


Biotic recovery after the CretaceousPalaeogene (K–Pg) impact is one unsolved question concerning this mass extinction event. To evaluate the incidence of the K–Pg event on biota, and the subsequent recovery, a recent environmental disaster has been analysed. Areas affected by the contamination disaster of Aználcollar (province of Sevilla, southern Spain) in April 1998 were studied and compared with the K–Pg event. Several similarities (the sudden impact, the high levels of toxic components, especially in the upper thin lamina and the incidence on biota) and differences (the time of recovery and the geographical extension) are recognized. An in-depth geochemical analysis of the soils reveals their acidity (between 1.83 and 2.11) and the high concentration of pollutant elements, locally higher than in the K–Pg boundary layer: values up to 7.0 mg kg−1 for Hg, 2030.7 mg kg−1 for As, 8629.0 mg kg−1 for Pb, 86.8 mg kg−1 for Tl, 1040.7 mg kg−1 for Sb and 93.3–492.7 p.p.b. for Ir. However, less than 10 years after the phenomenon, a rapid initial recovery in biota colonizing the contaminated, ‘unfavourable’, substrate is registered. Nesting of the ant Tapinoma nigerrima (Nylander) has taken place through the tailing layer, with arranged particles from inside the soils showing similar values in pollutant elements as the deep soils. This agrees with recent ichnological evidence of a rapid colonization of the K–Pg boundary layer, classically interpreted as an inhabitable substrate, by organisms with a high independence with respect to substrate features (i.e. Chondrites trace makers). The dramatic consequences of the KPg boundary impact and the generalized long-time recovery interpreted after the event (in the order of 104–105 years) could have been overestimated due to the absence of a high-temporal resolution in the range of 102–103 years.