Monday, October 05, 2009

Bouncing Back from the K/T Extinction

Rapid Resurgence of Marine Productivity After the Cretaceous-Paleogene Mass Extinction. 2009. J. SepĂșlveda, et al. Science 326: 129-132.
Researchers have found that some forms of microscopic marine life — the so called "primary producers," or photosynthetic organisms such as algae and cyanobacteria in the ocean — recovered within about a century after the mass extinction 65 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs . Previous research had indicated the process might have taken millions of years.

The analysis clarified the sequence of events after the big impact. Immediately after the impact, certain areas of the ocean were devoid of oxygen and hostile to most algae, but close to the continent, microbial life was inhibited for only a relatively short period: in probably less than 100 years, algal productivity showed the first signs of recovery. In the open ocean, however, this recovery took much longer: previous studies have estimated that the global ocean ecosystem did not return to its former state until 1 to 3 million years following the impact.

The findings provide observational evidence supporting models suggesting that global darkness after the impact was rather short. "Primary productivity came back quickly, at least in the environment we were studying," says Summons, referring to the near-shore environment represented by the Danish sediments.

"The atmosphere must have cleared up rapidly," he says. "People will have to rethink the recovery of the ecosystems. It can't be just the lack of food supply" that made it take so long to recover. link