KEY POINTS

  • A new study explains how asteroid impacts enrich the environment
  • The study focused on impact events that triggered mass extinctions
  • Researchers learned how asteroid impacts enriched elements found on Earth

A new study revealed how a major asteroid impact that caused an extinction event benefitted the Earth’s environment. Specifically, the study explained how the impact event enriched certain elements in the seawater.

Asteroid impacts are usually associated with destruction and the deaths of millions to billions of living organisms. However, a new study carried out by researchers from Japan’s University of Tsukuba revealed how these destructive events could actually improve the environment.

For the study, which was published in the journal Geological Society of America Bulletin, the researchers focused on the five major impact events that happened in Earth’s history. This includes the asteroid impact that occurred in a region that is now known as Stevns Klint, Denmark. It happened during the Cretaceous-Paleogene (KPg) boundary 66 million years ago.

Another impact event that the researchers studied is the one that created the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. This major impact event is credited as the one that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs.

As part of the study, the researchers analyzed the elements within the KPg boundary clays to determine which of them were affected by the asteroid impacts. The researchers then discovered that many of these elements, which include lead, silver and copper, contained enriched components.

“Since the enrichments of elements in these two components of the boundary clay were accompanied by enrichments of iridium, both two components might have been induced by processes related to the asteroid impact,” the study’s lead author Teruyuki Maruoka said in a statement.

As noted by the researchers, the vapor cloud produced by the asteroid impact produced iron oxides and hydroxides, which may have carried elements that contained high concentrations of sulfide minerals. As the vapor cloud traveled over the oceans, most of these elements ended up in the water. The researchers noted that the presence of these minerals in the water might have also enriched other elements on the seafloor.

“These could have been incorporated into the pyrite as impurities,” Maruoka explained. Furthermore, both iron oxides/hydroxides and chalcophile elements could have been released to the environment from the rocks that were struck by the asteroid impact.”