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American Geophysical Union 2007 Joint Assembly session on the end-Ice Age Impact

New Insights into Younger Dryas Climatic Instability, Mass Extinction, the Clovis People, and Extraterrestrial Impacts

Convener: Richard Firestone, Dr
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Mail Stop 88-0192
Berkeley, CA, USA 94720

Alan West, Mr
870 Sth Dewey Rd
Dewey, AZ, USA 86327

James P Kennett, Prof
University of California Santa Barbara
Earth Science
Santa Barbara, CA, USA 93106

Luann Becker, Dr
University of California Santa Barbara
Institute of Crustal Studies
Santa Barbara, CA, USA 93106

Index Terms: 4901 5421 6000 1817 3344 .

Description: The deglaciation that followed the last ice age period was abruptly and dramatically interrupted ~12,900 years ago by widespread cooling that marks the onset of the Younger Dryas Cool Episode, an apparent climatic anomaly in Quaternary deglaciation behavior. Much evidence shows that the Younger Dryas onset was marked by abrupt changes in ice sheet configuration, diversion of North American flood-waters to the northern Atlantic, the sudden emptying of proglacial lakes, and the reorganization of thermohaline circulation that may have triggered severe cooling. Nevertheless, significant questions have recently emerged about timing and direction of major freshwater flows to the oceans, in turn raising questions about the triggering mechanism for the Younger Dryas. The onset of the Younger Dryas also appears to have coincided with massive, widespread and punctuated changes in animal biota and Paleolithic cultural development centered in North and South America. This is represented by the well-known extinction of the megafauna of the Americas, including mammoths, horses and groundsloths (the most recent of all mass extinctions) and the termination of Clovis and certain other contemporaneous Paleolithic human cultures. The cause of these changes is also highly controversial and much debated, but is likely tied to the severe environmental changes that occurred at the beginning of the Younger Dryas. Nevertheless, some researchers consider these to be coincidental events, while others link the two as cause and effect. Another hypothesis attributes the extinctions to overhunting by Clovis people and other Paleolithic hunters or to pandemics associated with human migrations. However, all these hypotheses appear to fall short in satisfactorily explaining much available evidence. A new hypothesis posits that Younger Dryas cooling was instead triggered by extraterrestrial impacts that caused ice sheet destabilization, flood-water rediversion and changes in ocean circulation. This work offers newly uncovered evidence for ET impact at 12.9 ka including end-Clovis age sediments throughout North America with high levels of Iridium, magnetic and carbon, spherules, glass-like carbon, fullerenes, and ET noble gas ratios often in association with carbonaceous black layers and succeeded by black mats with unusual biota In this session, we invite abstracts that will explore the strengths and weaknesses of existing and new hypotheses that attempt to explain the cause of the Younger Dryas and of associated changes in the global environmental system, the associated extinctions, and of human cultural changes. We welcome all abstracts exploring new perspectives on the chronology, stratigraphic succession and potential interconnections between a wide-range of processes that appear to have been associated with the Younger Dryas Episode. These include abrupt climatic change, ice-sheet deglaciation, flood-water rerouting, surficial geology, iceberg discharge, ocean reorganization including thermohaline circulation, and sea-level change. Also critical is the timing and nature of major extinction, Paleolithic cultural succession and impact-related phenomena.

"Our research indicates that the entire Great Lakes region (and beyond) was subjected to particle bombardment and a catastrophic nuclear irradiation that produced secondary thermal neutrons from cosmic ray interactions. The neutrons produced unusually large quantities of 239Pu and substantially altered the natural uranium abundance ratios (235U/238U) in artifacts and in other exposed materials including cherts, sediments, and the entire landscape. These neutrons necessarily transmuted residual nitrogen (14N) in the dated charcoals to radiocarbon, thus explaining anomalous dates."

-- From "Terrestrial Evidence of a Nuclear Catastrophe in Paleoindian Times"

Dr. Richard Firestone and Mr. William Topping

"The Mammoth Trumpet," 2001


Reported in USA TODAY October 30, 2005

Published in the prestigious "Mammoth Trumpet"

Published in PDF with figures and a Carolina bay photo

A Primer on the 2001 theory and published dispute


U.S. Department of Energy

Press Release announcing the discovery of the Event

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Supernova Explosion May Have Caused Mammoth Extinction

Contact: Dan Krotz, 510-486-4019, dakrotz@lbl.gov

September 23, 2005

A distant supernova that exploded 41,000 years ago may have led to the extinction of the mammoth, according to research that will be presented tomorrow (Sept. 24) by nuclear scientist Richard Firestone of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Firestone, who conducted this research with Arizona geologist Allen West, will unveil this theory at the 2nd International Conference "The World of Elephants" in Hot Springs, SD. Their theory joins the list of possible culprits responsible for the demise of mammoths, which last roamed North America roughly 13,000 years ago. Scientists have long eyed climate change, disease, or intensive hunting by humans as likely suspects.

Now, a supernova may join the lineup. Firestone and West believe that debris from a supernova explosion coalesced into low-density, comet-like objects that wreaked havoc on the solar system long ago. One such comet may have hit North America 13,000 years ago, unleashing a cataclysmic event that killed off the vast majority of mammoths and many other large North American mammals. They found evidence of this impact layer at several archaeological sites throughout North America where Clovis hunting artifacts and human-butchered mammoths have been unearthed. It has long been established that human activity ceased at these sites about 13,000 years ago, which is roughly the same time that mammoths disappeared.

They also found evidence of the supernova explosion’s initial shockwave: 34,000-year-old mammoth tusks that are peppered with tiny impact craters apparently produced by iron-rich grains traveling at an estimated 10,000 kilometers per second. These grains may have been emitted from a supernova that exploded roughly 7,000 years earlier and about 250 light years from Earth.

“Our research indicates that a 10-kilometer-wide comet, which may have been composed from the remnants of a supernova explosion, could have hit North America 13,000 years ago,” says Firestone. “This event was preceded by an intense blast of iron-rich grains that impacted the planet roughly 34,000 years ago.”

In support of the comet impact, Firestone and West found magnetic metal spherules in the sediment of nine 13,000-year-old Clovis sites in Michigan, Canada, Arizona, New Mexico and the Carolinas. Low-density carbon spherules, charcoal, and excess radioactivity were also found at these sites.

“Armed with only a magnet and a Geiger counter, we found the magnetic particles in the well-dated Clovis layer all over North America where no one had looked before,” says Firestone.

Analysis of the magnetic particles by Prompt Gamma Activation Analysis at the Budapest Reactor and by Neutron Activation Analysis at Canada’s Becquerel Laboratories revealed that they are rich in titanium, iron, manganese, vanadium, rare earth elements, thorium, and uranium. This composition is very similar to lunar igneous rocks, called KREEP, which were discovered on the moon by the Apollo astronauts, and have also been found in lunar meteorites that fell to Earth in the Middle East an estimated 10,000 years ago.

“This suggests that the Earth, moon, and the entire solar system were bombarded by similar materials, which we believe were the remnants of the supernova explosion 41,000 years ago,” says Firestone.

In addition, Berkeley Lab’s Al Smith used the Lab’s Low-Background Counting Facility to detect the radioactive isotope potassium-40 in several Clovis arrowhead fragments. Researchers at Becquerel Laboratories also found that some Clovis layer sediment samples are significantly enriched with this isotope.

“The potassium-40 in the Clovis layer is much more abundant than potassium-40 in the solar system. This isotope is formed in considerable excess in an exploding supernova, and has mostly decayed since the Earth was formed,” says Firestone. “We therefore believe that whatever hit the Earth 13,000 years ago originated from a recently exploded supernova.”

Image: Radiocarbon peaks in Icelandic marine sediment samples, indicated by the black line, coincide with three supernova-caused events that Firestone and Wells believe led to the extinction of the mammoth

Firestone and West also uncovered evidence of an even earlier event that blasted parts of the Earth with iron-rich grains. Three mammoth tusks found in Alaska and Siberia, which were carbon-dated to be about 34,000 years old, are pitted with slightly radioactive, iron-rich impact sites caused by high-velocity grains. Because tusks are composed of dentine, which is a very hard material, these craters aren’t easily formed. In fact, tests with shotgun pellets traveling 1,000 kilometers per hour produced no penetration in the tusks. Much higher energies are needed: x-ray analysis determined that the impact depths are consistent with grains traveling at speeds approaching 10,000 kilometers per second.

“This speed is the known rate of expansion of young supernova remnants,” says Firestone.

The supernova’s one-two punch to the Earth is further corroborated by radiocarbon measurements. The timeline of physical evidence discovered at Clovis sites and in the mammoth tusks mirrors radiocarbon peaks found in Icelandic marine sediment samples that are 41,000, 34,000, and 13,000 years old. Firestone contends that these peaks, which represent radiocarbon spikes that are 150 percent, 175 percent, and 40 percent above modern levels, respectively, can only be caused by a cosmic ray-producing event such as a supernova.

“The 150 percent increase of radiocarbon found in 41,000-year-old marine sediment is consistent with a supernova exploding 250 light years away, when compared to observations of a radiocarbon increase in tree rings from the time of the nearby historical supernova SN 1006,” says Firestone.

Firestone adds that it would take 7,000 years for the supernova’s iron-rich grains to travel 250 light years to the Earth, which corresponds to the time of the next marine sediment radiocarbon spike and the dating of the 34,000-year-old mammoth tusks. The most recent sediment spike corresponds with the end of the Clovis era and the comet-like bombardment.

“It’s surprising that it works out so well,” says Firestone.

Source: Berkeley Lab









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