Impact cause for Younger Dryas draws flak

Almost a year ago two dozen scientists presented evidence to suggest that onset of the Younger Dryas at 12.9 ka followed upper atmosphere explosions of cometary material (Firestone, R.B. and 25 others 2007. Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, v. 104, 16016-16021; see Whizz-bang view of Younger Dryas in EPN July 2007). Evidence cited included: excess iridium; tiny spherules; fullerenes containing extraterrestrial helium; nanodiamonds and evidence for huge wildfires. Not quite the Full Monty, as neither crater nor shocked mineral grains were claimed, hence the teams’ opting for a cometary airburst. In North America such signs were said to overly the last known occurrences of Clovis tools at 7 archaeological sites (see Clovis First hypothesis dumped above). It was pretty clear that the suggestion for a hitherto unnoticed event with a widespread signature – 26 sites either side of the Atlantic were cited –  was going to be challenged, and so it has (see Kerr, R.A. Experts find no evidence for a mammoth-killer impact. Science, v. 319, p. 1331-1332), perhaps not unconnected with the blaze of publicity surrounding the paper’s appearance, including several TV documentaries.

Well, say experts, sooty layers do suggest large-scale fires, but forest fires occur every year, especially when humans are around. Fullerenes or ‘buckyballs’ equally can form terrestrially, except those containing ET helium. The last is regarded by many critics as ‘inventive’; they have never been isolated since such combinations were first reported in 2001 (see Extinctions by impacts: smoking artillery in EPN March 2002). The accepted methodology for detection of tiny diamonds seems to have been ignored, and that claimed to have found them misused. The iridium ‘spike’ – crucial in identifying the global nature of the K-T event – by itself is not enough for claims of impacts. Astonishingly, the authors cited such a Younger Dryas iridium spike in a Greenland ice core, yet the originator of those data says his paper does not report abnormal iridium at 12.9 ka or anywhere during the YD. Microspherules rain down all the time with interplanetary dust, and do not constitute sound evidence either.

So, what on Earth is going on? A collaboration between 26 authors, who willingly supply other workers with materials for checking surely cannot be conspiring at a hoax. Impact experts are hinting at ‘over-enthusiasm’ by a team outside the ‘impact community’. It all sounds oddly similar to the furore that in 1980 greeted  first suggestions by the Alvarezes for the K-T impact…

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