The chill that enveloped Earth 66 million years ago, after an asteroid struck and ushered the dinosaur era to a close, lasted longer, with greater consequences, than previously thought.
That's according to new research by scientists with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PKI), who argue, in a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, that droplets of sulfuric acid forming high in the air after the impact brought about a long-lasting plunge in temperatures, playing a key role in the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous.
"The long-term cooling caused by the sulfate aerosols was much more important for the mass extinction than the dust that stays in the atmosphere for only a relatively short time," said study lead Georg Feulner, in a statement. "It was also more important than local events like the extreme heat close to the impact, wildfires or tsunamis."
Existing studies, the PKI team wrote, "focused on the effect of dust or used one-dimensional, non-coupled atmosphere models." Feulner and his team instead used new computer models that coupled atmosphere, ocean and sea ice data in order to run their simulations.
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The resulting post-impact computer models painted a dire picture for dinosaurs accustomed to a lush environment: a global mean surface air temperature drop of at least 26 degrees C.; three to 16 years of sub-freezing temperatures; and a climate recovery time of more than 30 years.