Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Palaeobotanical evidence for a June 'impact winter' at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary

Abstract

A LARGE bolide impact, such as that thought to have occurred at the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundary, should produce large amounts of light-attenuating debris, thereby causing an 'impact winter'1–3. Because of thermal buffering in the oceans, evidence for a brief (1–2 months2–4) impact winter would be found only in terrestrial environments. Aquatic leaves in the K/T boundary section near Teapot Dome, Wyoming, preserve structural deformation that can be duplicated experimentally in extant aquatic leaves by freezing. Reproductive stages reached by the fossil aquatic plants at the time of death suggest that freezing took place in approximately early June. Both the existence of the structurally deformed plants and the high abundance of fern spores occur in a horizon containing sparse impact debris, but below the horizon containing abundant impact debris; I therefore suggest that the lower horizon represents debris and effects from a large, distant bolide impact, and the upper horizon represents a small, nearby bolide impact.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1

    Alvarez, L. W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F. & Michael, H. V. Science 208, 1095–1108 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    O'Keefe, J. D. & Ahrens, T. J. Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Pap. 190, 103–120 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Toon, O. B. et al. Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Pap. 190, 187–200 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Wolfe, J. A. & Upchurch, G. R. Nature 324, 148–152 (1986).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Tschudy, R. H., Pillmore, C. L., Orth, C. J., Gilmore, J. S. & Knight, J. D. Science 225, 1030–1032 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Richards, P. W. The Tropical Rain Forest (Cambridge University Press, 1952).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Spicer, R. A., Burnham, R. J., Grant, P. & Glicken, H. Am. Fern J. 75, 1–5 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Izett, G. A. Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Pap. 249, (1990).

  9. 9

    Tschudy, R. H. & Tschudy, B. D. Geology 14, 667–670 (1986).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Nichols, D. J., Jarzen, D. M., Orth, C. J. & Oliver, P. Q. Science 231, 714–717 (1986).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Lerbekmo, J. F., Sweet, A. R. & St. Louis, R. M. Bull. Geol. Soc. Am. 99, 325–330 (1987).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Bohor, B. F., Triplehorn, D. M., Nichols, D. J. & Millard, H. T. Geology 15, 896–899 (1987).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Wolfe, J. A. & Izett, G. A. EOS 68, 1344 (1987).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Yoshioka, K. in The Flora and Vegetation of Japan (ed. Numata, M.) 211–235 (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Wolfe, J. A. Nature 343, 153–156 (1990).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Izett, G. A. Bull. geol. Soc. Am. 99, 78–86 (1987).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    O'Keefe, J. D. & Ahrens, T. J. Nature 338, 247–249 (1989).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Howard-Williams, C. & Junk, W. J. Biogeographica 7, 115–123 (1976).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Clark, D. E. Sunset New Western Garden Book (Lane, Menlo Park, California, 1967).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Askin, R. A. Mem. geol. Soc. Am. 169, 155–162 (1988).

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Spicer, R. A. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B325, 291–305 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Izett, G. A., Maurrasse, F. J-M. R., Lichte, F. E., Meeker, G. P. & Bates, R. US geol. Survey Open-file Rep. No. 90–635 (1990).

  23. 23

    Sigurdsson, H. et al. Nature 349, 482–487 (1991).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Erdtmann, G. Pollen Morphology and Plant Taxonomy (Chronica Botanica, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1952).

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wolfe, J. Palaeobotanical evidence for a June 'impact winter' at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. Nature 352, 420–423 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1038/352420a0

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing