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Project to drill into 'dinosaur crater' gets under way

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Manetho
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« on: April 10, 2016, 02:45:00 am »

Scientists to drill in to 'dinosaur crater'
Posted on Thursday, 7 April, 2016



The crater brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs. Image Credit: NASA / Donald E. Davis
A new expedition is aiming to drill in to the crater left by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
66 million years ago a huge chunk of rock slammed in to the surface of the Earth - an event so utterly cataclysmic that it would serve to bring about an end to the age of the dinosaurs.

These days most of the 100km-wide impact site, which is known as the Chicxulub Crater, is situated off the coast of Mexico and lies beneath 600m of mud and sediment at the bottom of the sea.

Now in a renewed effort to learn more about the impact, an international team of scientists has taken a special drilling platform out in to the Gulf of Mexico to try and reach the crater directly.

Of particular interest to the team will be the 'peak ring' - a region at the center of the crater which was formed when it rebounded and collapsed.

"We want to know where the rocks that make up this peak ring come from," said Professor Joanna Morgan from Imperial College London. "Are they from the lower, mid or upper crust ?"

"Knowing that will help us understand how large craters are formed, and that's important for us to be able to say what was the total impact energy, and what was the total volume of rock that was excavated and put into the Earth's stratosphere to cause the environmental damage."

The drilling project, which is now underway, is expected to take around two months to complete.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35950946
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Manetho
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« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2016, 02:45:45 am »

Project to drill into 'dinosaur crater' gets under way
By Jonathan Amos BBC Science Correspondent


The Myrtle uses three legs to lift itself out of the water and make a steady platform
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Manetho
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« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2016, 02:46:13 am »

A joint UK-US-led expedition has got under way to drill into the Chicxulub Crater off the coast of Mexico.

This is the deep scar made in the Earth's surface 66 million years ago by the asteroid that scientists believe hastened the end of the dinosaurs.

Today, the key parts of the crater are buried beneath 600m of ocean sediment.

But if researchers can access its rocks, they should learn more about the scale of the impact, and the environmental catastrophe that ensued.

They are particularly interested in a feature called the "peak ring".
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Manetho
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« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2016, 02:46:37 am »

This was created at the centre of the impact hole where the Earth rebounded after being hit by the city-sized object.
Image caption The outer rim (white arc) of the crater lies under the Yucatan Peninsula itself, but the inner peak ring is best accessed offshore

    An 18km-wide impactor punched a hole in the Earth's crust some 100km across and 30km deep
    This bowl then collapsed in on itself, leaving a crater about 200km across and a few km deep
    The central zone of the crater rebounded and collapsed again, leaving an inner "peak ring"
    Today, much of the Chicxulub Crater is buried offshore in the Gulf, under 600m of sediments
    On land, the crater is covered by limestone deposits, but its rim is traced by an arc of sinkholes
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Manetho
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« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2016, 02:47:02 am »

In geophysical surveys that can sense beneath the ocean bed, the ring looks like an arcing chain of mountains.

"We want to know where the rocks that make up this peak ring come from," explained Prof Joanna Morgan, the co-lead investigator from Imperial College London.

"Are they from the lower, mid or upper crust? Knowing that will help us understand how large craters are formed, and that's important for us to be able to say what was the total impact energy, and what was the total volume of rock that was excavated and put into the Earth's stratosphere to cause the environmental damage," she told BBC News.
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Manetho
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« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2016, 02:47:18 am »

Geophysical surveys have identified the location of the peak ring

The cataclysm that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous Period doomed many species, not just the dinosaurs. All the material hurled upwards would have darkened the sky and cooled the planet for months on end.

But even as it took life away, the event also opened up new opportunities for those species that survived. And the expedition team wants to know if the impact zone itself became a life cradle.

Because the asteroid hit what was back then a shallow sea area, it is likely the newly created crater was quickly filled with water.

This water would have infused the hot and fractured rocks, leaching chemicals that could then sustain micro-organisms. Very similar conditions are seen today along the volcanic ridge that runs down the centre of the Atlantic Ocean.

"So it's possible we may encounter some exotic life in the fractured rocks we drill," said Prof Morgan.

"This is very interesting for Chicxulub, but it's also fascinating to consider in terms of the early Earth or even Mars. On the early Earth, there would have been many more, larger impacts. We think life may well have originated in impact craters."
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Manetho
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« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2016, 02:47:36 am »

Joanna Morgan: "Within a few seconds it formed a crater 100km wide and 30km deep"

The team is using a "liftboat" called Myrtle as its drilling platform.

This will position itself close to the Yucatan Peninsula coast, jacking itself up on three legs to make for a steady station.

To reach the rocks of the peak ring, the drill will first have to navigate the thick muds on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

"There's less interest in the first 650m before the K-Pg (Cretaceous-Palaeogene) boundary, which is the carbonates," said Dave Smith, from the British Geological Survey.

"We've taken the view that we will open the hole to 500m and then set a casing and start coring. And we'll core continuously then down to the target depth which is 1,500m," the operations manager on the project added.

Some of the early core samples to come up should show evidence of how quickly life returned to the impact zone. Marine organisms should have re-established themselves in this sterile area on the scale of thousands of years.

Deeper cores are likely to make contact with the tsunami deposits that sloshed back and forth in the immediate aftermath of the impact.

The true peak ring rocks are at a depth of about 800m and below.
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Manetho
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« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2016, 02:48:06 am »

David Smith: "We've taken a bare platform and built it into a research platform"

The team has given itself two months to get the job done.

"We've developed a drilling strategy that gives us multiple chances of getting to 1,500m, but at any stage you could get stuck for various reasons," explained Mr Smith.

"We're 30km off-shore, which allows us to re-supply easily. We've also timed the project so that we're pre the hurricane season. Hence starting now and trying to finish before June."

The science team has members from the US, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Canada, and China, as well as the UK and five other European countries.

The project is being conducted by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD), as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

Although the Myrtle carries labs to do some initial investigations, the main study will be done after the cores have been shipped to the IODP's repository in Bremen, Germany.
Image caption The Chicxulub Crater is arrowed in this exaggerated model of gravity anomalies in the Gulf of Mexico
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35950946
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Manetho
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« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2016, 02:50:07 am »

If the site has been under sea water for so long, I wonder if the data obtained will be of any real value by this time. I guess one could hope. If it is, maybe the find will be earth shattering. Of course, at that depth, once you get past sedimentation it should be pretty well preserved.
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