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Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

Michael is an assistant professor of finance and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments. He holds a PhD in finance…

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Did Oil Kill The Dinosaurs?


What killed the dinosaurs? It’s a question as old as – well the dinosaurs themselves, and one that everyone from school children to scientists have been asking for decades. Movies like Jurassic Park and the Land Before Time only heighten that sense of wonder and raise the stakes behind that question. Now according to a new scientific study, it seems that black gold may have been the source of the dinos’ demise.

Japanese researchers at Tohuku University and the Meteorological Research Institute authored a recent study in the research journal Scientific Reports suggesting that a meteor impact 66 million years ago on an oil rich region of Yucatan Peninsula led to the death of the dinosaurs. When the asteroid hit the vast oil deposits of Mexico, it sent thick black smoke into the atmosphere, changing the climate around the world. That soot blocked out the sun leading to a significant cooling of the planet. Equally importantly, it also led to a substantial drought around the world.

The asteroid in question was roughly 6 miles wide and its impacted created the 110 mile wide crater that exists in the Yucatan today – the third largest crater on Earth. The impact was the equivalent of roughly 1 billion atomic bombs of the equivalent power to what struck Hiroshima at the end of World War 2.

The researchers calculate that the amount of soot released would have lowered sunlight exposure by 85 percent and reduced rainfall by 80 percent. That would have had a significant impact on plant growth, which in turn would have limited food options for most dinosaurs. In addition, the soot cooled the Earth by 16 degrees Celsius (about 28.8 degrees Fahrenheit) over the course of just 3 years. Think of the event as the reverse of global warming – and on steroids. Related: What Will Trump’s Nuclear Energy Policy Look Like?

Against this backdrop it is not surprising that dinosaurs all died out. Only smaller mammals that could live underground would have survived. In fact, the fossil record suggests that only 12 percent of the pre-asteroid life was able to survive after the impact. It was not just dinosaurs that died either, contrary to myths about the Ice Age – around 93 percent of mammal species were killed off as well, according to a separate research study by scientists at the University of Bath. The largest animals that would have survived the extinction event were about the size of a house cat.

Still, life bounced back “fairly quickly” researchers say, with about twice as many species existing 300,000 years after the event versus before it. Of course, given that the course of human history only goes back around 25,000 years, three-hundred thousand years is still a long period of time. It reflects the reality that the asteroid strike had a significant enough impact that its effects took tens of thousands of years to dissipate. It was the adaptability of mammals after the strike versus various reptiles that led the mammals to ultimately come to dominate the planet. Dinosaurs were in decline for millions of years before the asteroid strike, but that event aided by the oil rich soil of the Yucatan finished them off.

It’s ironic that oil, so fundamental for modern human life was ultimately the catalyst that wiped out the dinosaurs. Had the asteroid stuck in a less oil rich region, back of the envelope calculations suggest its impact would have only been around one-third as devastating. It’s impossible to say if that would have allowed any of the dinosaurs to live or not, but it is at least a possibility. Perhaps if not for the existence of oil, none of us would have cars, but maybe we would all have a pet brontosaurus.

By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Bob Broadfoot on July 19 2016 said:
    Delta 16 degree C is NOT delta 61 degree F.

    Delta 16 C * 9/5 = Delta 29 F.

    Despite what your elementary school teacher may have taught, you don't add the 32 degree difference at freezing point when calculating differences in temperatures. You only do that when calculating temperature, not differences in temperature.
  • Steve Schulin on July 19 2016 said:
    So extracting the oil from the Earth and burning it relatively slowly mitigates against part of the risk of a catastrophic meteor hit in the future. The exaggerations and other lies by CO2-climate alarmists are resulting in policies which not only involve impoverishing multitudes now, but also increase risk of extinctions later. @GrandStrander
  • dave on July 20 2016 said:
    The oldest human remains dates back to about 195,000 years. I don't know what you mean by 25,000 years?
  • pounce on July 20 2016 said:
    Bob - Get a life.
  • O. Lewis on July 20 2016 said:
    Plenty of animals larger than a housecat survived. Think of crocodiles for instance.
  • evodevo on July 20 2016 said:
    @ Dave - maybe he's a young-earth creationist LOL
  • Cretaceousexplorer on July 20 2016 said:
    Interesting since the K-T boundary indicates an "extra-terrestrial event" at the end of the Cretaceous (when the dinosaurs died out) and much of the oil produced in the Mexican fields (i.e. Yucatan) are from late Cretaceous age formations - or younger. Sooo...since the oil took awhile to form just HOW does an asteroid "ignite" oil that hadn't formed - or was in the process of forming...things that make you go hmmmm?
  • Cretaceousexplorer on July 20 2016 said:
    ...oh, and one more thing. After reading the actual research report with lines like "The K/Pg impact breccias in the Cantarell Field, which is the largest oil field in Mexico and located in the vicinity of the crater, contain massive amounts of crude oil derived from the Late Jurassic (i.e., 90 million years older than the asteroid impact)"...Oil, typically, forms at source beds and migrates to reservoirs so, just because you find oil in Bed A today, doesn't mean it was there 66 MY ago. And I won't bother going into the whole continental drift/plate tectonic models other than to say...the planet is a dynamic place...what you find today may not have been there yesterday and what you find today probably won't be there tomorrow. Nice theory though that can lend support to the myth of the "evil" black sludge, and those associated with it, that threatens the planet...I guess Ma Nature really has no clue as to what she's doing, huh?

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