Opinion

Jurassic jinx

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on August 13, 2014 Published on August 13, 2014

BL14_cheatsheet.jpg

The movie? Or the video game?

Neither. We’re talking about our prehistoric friends — the dinosaurs. And how they bade good-bye to planet Earth.

Wasn’t it an asteroid strike? I still have my school notes somewhere...

Indeed. But there is a twist to the tale. Turns out, the asteroid strike did not single-handedly wipe dinosaurs from the Earth but a long series of events did. A new study says when a 10-km wide asteroid flew into what is now Mexico approximately 66 million years ago, our big friends (well, there were small ones as well) were already witnessing a lot of environmental turbulence, which made them extremely vulnerable to such a strike.

Scientists say that if the big fireball (a large bolide, in astronomerspeak) had hit the D Company some millennia earlier, they would have survived the hit. If the cataclysmic comet had come even a few millennia later, when new species would have evolved, the chances of dinosaurs surviving it were higher too.

“The dinosaurs were victims of colossal bad luck.”

Says who?

A team of palaeontologists from the University of Edinburgh, in association with the American Museum of Natural History, studied a series of dinosaur fossils, mostly from North America, and came to this conclusion.

The findings were published in the latest issue of the journal Biological Reviews.

And how did they arrive at this conclusion?

The scientists discovered that widespread volcanic eruptions, drastically changing sea levels and alarmingly shifting temperatures had already weakened the dinosaurs’ food chain before the asteroid hit.

You mean they were starving already?

The scientists say that there was a “lack of diversity” among the large plant-eating dinosaurs on which the others preyed. This was probably because of the changes in the climate and environment.

When the asteroid hit Mexico-of-the-prehistoric-era, an already weakened ecosystem was hit by a “perfect storm” of aftershocks — a series of heavy-duty tsunamis, violent earthquakes, wildfires, sudden temperature swings and other environmental changes.

And wiped them out?

More or less. Some winged species evolved into birds.

But what does this finding tell us now?

It always helps us to understand how species that lived before us went extinct. Roughly put, that will help us prepare better to meet any such eventualities (that said, I don’t think we can survive a comet strike of that magnitude today, but you never know!). The study is important because there has been a long debate about how exactly the asteroid or comet strike and its aftershocks affected dinosaurs. Some palaeontologists believed that after the Big Strike, “a long, unnatural” fall in the Earth’s atmospheric temperature had prompted the dinosaur’s extinction, while others believed the tragedy came in the form of an intense heat wave that the dinosaurs just couldn’t survive.

Now, the new study sort of nullifies these theories, since the study says that though under stress, there was “nothing to show” that they would have become extinct — till the meteor struck.

Which may have been a blessing for us…

Quite. Because if the dinosaurs were still around, they would have evolved — and those small mammals which eventually evolved into humans may not have climbed the evolutionary ladder.

A weekly column that helps you ask the right questions

Published on August 13, 2014
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor