Computer simulation recreates the giant tsunami that washed over the dying dinosaurs


The horrible destruction in Canada’s Maritime provinces in the wake of post-tropical storm Fiona, and in Florida from Hurricane Ian, present the unbelievable energy of waves and storm surges many metres above regular, and what they’ll do to shorelines.

But that harm would pale compared to what occurred when a wave 1.5 kilometres tall exploded from the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years in the past. The wave was a by-product of the catastrophic asteroid affect that led to the extinction of the terrestrial dinosaurs. 

Scientists at the University of Michigan have used a pc simulation to reconstruct the large wave that was created when a 14 kilometre-wide asteroid struck the Earth close to present-day Chicxulub on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

The 180 km-diameter crater was found in 1990 by a group together with Canadian geologist Alan Hildebrand. Since then, an excessive amount of work has been performed to be taught extra about the speedy and long-term results of the affect.

Some of those results embrace disturbance of the sea ground, shock waves inflicting large earthquakes, fireplace storms from the explosion, ash and mud being thrown into the environment inflicting catastrophic local weather disruption, and the mass extinction that adopted. 

But the particulars of the impact on the ocean and ensuing mega-tsunami had not been precisely modelled till this new examine. And what the mannequin confirmed was itself surprising.

This map of the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years in the past exhibits what the simulation predicted for sea-surface peak, in metres, 4 hours after the asteroid affect. (Range et al. in AGU Advances, 2022)

The laptop simulation, developed by University of Michigan paleoceanographer Molly Range and her group, confirmed issues have been fairly dangerous, fairly quick.

“At about 10 minutes post-impact we noticed that wave at a most of about 1.5 km tall, so fairly huge,” Range instructed me, in an interview on Quirks & Quarks.

It then started spreading out by way of the Gulf of Mexico, like the round waves radiating out from a stone thrown right into a pond. That wave affected coastlines in a different way, relying on geography, in keeping with Range.

“It begins hitting the coastlines inside the first couple of hours. Directly in the Gulf of Mexico, you begin seeing waves wherever from 30 metres in peak to a whole lot of metres in peak. You then begin transferring out into the north Atlantic [Ocean].”

Quirks and Quarks7:55Painting an image of the Chicxulub tsunami

It was nonetheless not less than 10 metres excessive because it swept up the east coast of North America. The giant tsunami, together with smaller waves created by particles falling from the sky, additionally propagated throughout the Atlantic, reaching Europe 24 hours later.

At that time in the Earth’s historical past, a niche existed between North and South America which allowed the wave to enter the Pacific Ocean. It then unfold as far north as Alaska, and midway round the globe to New Zealand. Even the Indian Ocean was affected as the wave arrived from each the Atlantic and Pacific sides.

Forty-eight hours after the asteroid’s preliminary affect, most coastlines in the world had been affected by tsunami waves. 

An aerial view of the vacation resort of Ton Sai Bay in Thailand’s Phi Phi island on Dec. 29, 2004, days after a tsunami hit the space. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed greater than 200,000 individuals, and put villages and resorts underwater in nations round the area. (Luis Enrique Ascui/Reuters)

While this laptop mannequin didn’t measure how far inland the flooding from these waves would have reached, the scientists did calculate the power concerned.

It was 30,000 occasions higher than the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004, which killed greater than 200,000 individuals. One can solely think about the damaging power of a lot water reaching land. 

Supporting proof for the tsunami’s far-reaching results lies in ocean sediments that present indicators of extreme disturbance throughout that time interval. The results on marine life would have been profound as nicely. Even with a a lot smaller occasion like hurricane Fiona can disturb marine life, because of phenomena like dramatic and fast adjustments in water temperature

All in all, it was a fairly dangerous day on planet Earth, and raises existential questions for us, in keeping with Range.

“To consider one thing like the Chicxulub affect taking place right now, it is simply arduous to quantify,” she stated.

VIDEO from the University of Michigan

That affect 66 million years in the past was not the first time the Earth has been hit by massive objects in house. In reality, all the planets and moons in our photo voltaic system present indicators of impacts courting again billions of years. The darkish round areas and pockmarked floor of our moon are the results of impacts on our satellite tv for pc. 

There have been not less than 5 main extinction occasions over the final half billion years — and whereas we’re solely positive of 1 that was triggered by an asteroid affect, every occasion altered the course of evolution of life. And there are hundreds extra asteroids and comets nonetheless wandering round in house. 

But earlier than you are worried about the subsequent one heading our manner, there’s excellent news. NASA has an ongoing sky survey program referred to as Near Earth Objects Observations Program (NEO) to search out, observe and characterize not less than 90% of objects higher than 140 metres in measurement. So far, no massive dinosaur killers have been noticed heading our manner.

If a smaller object is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth, the latest DART mission confirmed that we’ve got the functionality to ship a spacecraft out to intercept an asteroid — and, hopefully, nudge it off-course simply sufficient to overlook our planet. 

It is ironic that for the first time in the historical past of life on Earth, we’ve got the capacity to stop a significant disruption of of life brought on by an object falling from house — however at the identical time, many scientists suppose people are driving a sixth extinction right now by way of adjustments we’re making to the planet’s crucial habitats with growth, air pollution and local weather change.


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