Asteroid devastation possibly worse than feared

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Researchers say in a new report that if a huge asteroid were to hit the Earth, the catastrophic destruction it causes and even the "impact winter" that follows might only be a prelude to a different, but very deadly phase that starts later on - what they call "ultraviolet spring."

In an analysis of the secondary ecological repercussions of a major asteroid impact, scientists from Oregon State University and the British Antarctic Survey have outlined some of the residual effects of ozone depletion, acid rain and increased levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation. The results were just published in the journal Ecology Letters.

The findings are frightening. As a number of popular movies have illustrated in recent years, a big asteroid or comet impact would in fact produce enormous devastation, huge tidal waves, and a global dust cloud that would block the sun and choke the planet in icy, winter-like conditions for months. Many experts believe such conditions existed on Earth following such an impact around the Cretaceous-Tertiary, or K-T boundary, when there was a massive extinction of many animals, including the dinosaurs.

Thats pretty bad. But according to Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, theres more to the story. "Scientists have pretty well documented the immediate destruction of an asteroid impact and even the impact winter which its dust cloud would create," Blaustein said. "But our study suggests thats just the beginning of the ecological disaster, not the end of it."

Blaustein and colleague Charles Cockell examined an asteroid impact of a magnitude similar to the one that occurred around the K-T boundary, which is believed to have hit off the Yucatan Peninsula with a force of almost one trillion megatons.

The immediate results would be catastrophic destruction and an impact winter, with widespread death of plants and the large terrestrial animals - including humans - that most direc

Contact: Andrew Blaustein
Oregon State University

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