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Timing and causes of forest fire at the K–Pg boundary


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We report K–Pg-age deposits in Baja California, Mexico, consisting of terrestrial and shallow-marine materials re-sedimented onto the continental slope, including corals, gastropods, bivalves, shocked quartz grains, an andesitic tuff with a SHRIMP U–Pb age (66.12 ± 0.65 Ma) indistinguishable from that of the K–Pg boundary, and charred tree trunks. The overlying mudstones show an iridium anomaly and fungal and fern spores spikes. We interpret these heterogeneous deposits as a direct result of the Chicxulub impact and a mega-tsunami in response to seismically-induced landsliding. The tsunami backwash carried the megaflora offshore in high-density flows, remobilizing shallow-marine fauna and sediment en route. Charring of the trees at temperatures up to > 1000 °C took place in the interval between impact and arrival of the tsunami, which on the basis of seismic velocities and historic analogues amounted to only tens of minutes at most. This constrains the timing and causes of fires and the minimum distance from the impact site over which fires may be ignited.
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Timing and causes of forest re
at the K–Pg boundary
A. Santa Catharina1,2, B. C. Kneller1*, J. C. Marques3, A. D. McArthur4,
S. R. S. Cevallos‑Ferriz5, T. Theurer1, I. A. Kane6 & D. Muirhead1
We report K–Pg‑age deposits in Baja California, Mexico, consisting of terrestrial and shallow‑marine
materials re‑sedimented onto the continental slope, including corals, gastropods, bivalves, shocked
quartz grains, an andesitic tu with a SHRIMP U–Pb age (66.12 ± 0.65 Ma) indistinguishable from that
of the K–Pg boundary, and charred tree trunks. The overlying mudstones show an iridium anomaly
and fungal and fern spores spikes. We interpret these heterogeneous deposits as a direct result of the
Chicxulub impact and a mega‑tsunami in response to seismically‑induced landsliding. The tsunami
backwash carried the megaora oshore in high‑density ows, remobilizing shallow‑marine fauna
and sediment en route. Charring of the trees at temperatures up to > 1000 °C took place in the interval
between impact and arrival of the tsunami, which on the basis of seismic velocities and historic
analogues amounted to only tens of minutes at most. This constrains the timing and causes of res
and the minimum distance from the impact site over which res may be ignited.
e consensus is that the Chicxulub bolide impact was at least partially responsible for the Cretaceous–Paleogene
boundary extinction event, e.g.,13, and references therein] and associated profound climatic changes, e.g.,46.
Schulte etal.7 identied a pattern of decreasing ejecta thicknesses with distance from the impact site consistent
with it being the single source, e.g.,8,9. is interpretation is also supported by the distribution, composition, and
depositional characteristics of the ejecta1,1013.
Continental margin localities proximal to the impact site and on the North Atlantic margin of North America
show evidence of large-scale mass wasting, e.g.,11,14,15; an iridium anomaly is oen observed immediately above
the mass ow deposits, associated with other ejecta such as spherules and shocked minerals, e.g.,7. ere is also
evidence of global-scale res in the form of soot16,17, though there has been considerable debate over the exact
nature, timing and proximate cause of these res.
e upper Campanian to lower Danian Rosario Formation near the town of El Rosario on the western side of
the Baja California peninsula, c. 300km south of the US/Mexico border (Fig.1)21,22, comprises c. 1200m of deep-
marine sedimentary rocks23,24, and references therein]. It includes several slope channel systems and submarine
landslide deposits within background hemipelagic slope mudstones, little faulted and with very low dips, e.g.
25,26, (Fig.2). is west-facing continental margin in the Upper Cretaceous was oriented similarly to the modern
coastline, with a shoreline approximately 25km east of its current location27, where shallow marine sediments
onlap a Lower Cretaceous arc succession. e study area represents the upper slope, with a slope angle of 3.5 to
7°, estimated from water depth (1500–3000m based on benthic foraminiferal assemblages28); and distance to
the contemporaneous shoreline (c. 25km to NE27).
is sequence includes a previously undocumented 60m package recording catastrophic re-sedimentation
events. e occurrence of terrestrial material (charred tree trunks) and shallow-water micro and macro fauna
(corals, gastropods, and bivalves) is in marked contrast to the enclosing bathyal succession25,26,28. We rst present
previously undescribed geological, palaeontological, palynological, and geochemical evidence from this relatively
impact-proximal (2500km) setting to show that this represents the K–Pg boundary succession. It demonstrates
the burning of live trees at temperatures consistent with crown res before the arrival of animpact-related tsu-
nami (the rst described from the Pacic margin) that displaced them into deep water on the continental slope.
Finally, we discuss the implications for the timing, causes and distance from impact site of wildres.
1School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB23 3UE, UK. 2ITT Oceaneon, Universidade do Vale
do Rio dos Sinos, Sao Leopoldo 93020-190, Brazil. 3Instituto de Geociências, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande
do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS 90650-001, Brazil. 4School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2
9JT, UK. 5Universidad Autónoma de México, 04510 Ciudad de México, Mexico. 6Department of Earth and
Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M169PL, UK. *email:
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e Maastrichtian/Danian boundary has been mapped in the region as an erosive surface23, and wherever the
Maastrichtian–Palaeocene boundary can be seen in this area it is truncated by km-scale, low-angle slide surfaces,
commonly overlain by slide blocks (Fig.2). e sedimentary package lying above these surfaces and associated
blocks contrasts with the sequences above and below in consisting of pebbly mudstones, locally with shallow-
marine foraminifera, horizons rich in terrestrial and shallow-water fossils, and a tu (Fig.2). ey are immedi-
ately succeeded by hemipelagic Danian deposits. No nannofossils or planktic foraminifera were encountered in
this package, and benthic foraminifera are decalcied.
Unit A (pebbly mudstone with fossil wood). e lowest unit is a ≤ 6m-thick pebbly mudstone (thin-
ning to both NW and SE; Fig.2). Charcoalied sub-cm plant fragments comprise 5% of the deposit in a
clay-rich matrix. Sparse rounded granules and pebbles of crystalline rock occur throughout. It is distinctive in
containing fossilized fragments of tree trunks, including Pinaceae, Cupressaceae and Lauraceae (the new spe-
cies Rosarioxylon bajacaliforniensis Cevallos-Ferriz29). e specimens are 1.5m in diameter and up to 3m in
length, larger and more common at the base, distributed every few meters horizontally along the outcrop, form-
ing a Lagerstätte. Preservation is exceptional, with nodes and broken branch stumps, bark commonly attached
and visible growth rings (Fig.3A,B). Vascular, epithelial oil/mucilage cells, resin canals and ducts, rays and pits
are also well preserved29.
Parts of these trunks are charred, with portions of bark and cambium completely charcoalied but still
attached to the rest of the trunk (Fig.3C,D), suggesting very little reworking and rapid burial. e internal
wood below the distinct charring layer appears uncharred/unaltered and shows no evidence of decay prior to
burning. e absence of bio-erosion, such as Teredolites30, also suggests negligible post-mortem residence time
at air/water and water/sediment interfaces.
Around 70% of the palynomorphs are dinocysts and acritarchs, including the Cretaceous markers Dinogym-
nium spp. and Yolkinigymnium spp. (cf31.). e bulk of plant palynomorphs are angiosperm pollens and pteri-
dophyte spores with clear Mesozoic forms (Fig.4A,B. Spore color indicates burial of < 1km. No foraminiferal
tests were found in this unit (Supplementary Information, Fig. S2 and tablesS2-S3).
Unit B (pebbly mudstone). is 8m thick unit thins towards NW and SE (Fig.2) and overlaps Unit A,
overlying it via a transition over a few cm, containing more silt, less clay (~ 55%) and only sparse sub-dm frag-
ments of plant material. It includes similar granules and pebbles, concretions (≤ 10cm in diameter), convolute
bedding and so-sediment folds.
Shallow-water benthic foraminifera such as miliolids and lagenids (Fig.4C,D), cf. Midway Fauna, Gulf of
Mexico (GoM)32, indicate re-deposition of shelfal and/or upper slope sediments. Unit B yielded few palyno-
morphs; like Unit A, dinocysts are dominant, but fewer acritarchs were observed. Bryophyte, angiosperm and
pteridophyte spores are present.
Figure1. (A) location map of the study area(georeferenced and vectorized from Google Earth Pro (2022):
https:// www. google. com. br/ earth/ about/ versi ons/), using ArcMap 10.7: https:// www. esri. com/ en- us/ arcgis/
produ cts/ arcgis- deskt op/ resou rces); (B) paleogeographic reconstruction of Gulf of Mexico and Baja California
Pacic margintaken from Stéphan etal.18, andHelenes & Carreño19; using ArcMap 10.7:https:// www. esri. com/
en- us/ arcgis/ produ cts/ arcgis- deskt op/ resou rces), with location of this study, Chicxulub crater, and impact-
related slumps, faults, slides, and tsunami deposits (compiled by Vellekoop etal.20).
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Figure2. Log correlation of K–Pg-related deposits; main lithologies, structures, and fossils, within upper
Maastrichtian and lower Danian hemipelagic mudstones. Panel is hung on correlative horizons that are present
in three or more sections. Penecontemporaneous conglomerate deposits are unrelated to the K–Pg event and
form part of channel systems that are ubiquitous in this stretch of the Pacic margin. Base map generated
from: Esri, HERE, Garmin, Intermap, increment P Corp., GEBCO, USGS, FAO, NPS, NRCAN, GeoBase, IGN,
Kadaster NL, Ordnance Survey, Esri Japan, METI, Esri China (Hong Kong), (c) OpenStreetMap contributors,
and the GIS User Community. Map produced using ArcMap 10.7: https:// www. esri. com/ en- us/ arcgis/ produ cts/
arcgis- deskt op/ resou rces.
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Unit C (bioclast‑rich pebbly mudstone). is 2m thick, erosively-based unit of silty mudstone con-
tains a high concentration of randomly oriented, 1–5-cm coral fragments (Flabellum sp. And Lithostrotionella
sp.), gastropods (Turritella sp., Retipirula sp. And Pyropsis sp.) and bivalves (Calva sp.) throughout (e.g., Fig.4F–
H). Preservation is excellent, with little abrasion (few fragmented edges, shell ornamentation intact), and bivalves
frequently found still articulated with closed valves, suggesting transport with minimal turbulence in a cohesive
ow. Reworked fossil wood fragments occur throughout, along with concretions, both ranging from a few cen-
timeters to 1m. Palynomorph recovery and preservation were poor in this unit.
Unit D (pebbly mudstone). is 15m thick unit has a sharp, at contact, and is indistinguishable from
Unit B, apart from its lower organic content. e palynomorph assemblage, however, comprises more than 80%
fungal spores (Fig.4B) that indicate the presence of a terrigenous component, possibly remobilized soil.
Unit E (tu). is 20m thick unit of lapilli crystal vitric tu has an erosive base, and its lower half incor-
porates crystalline pebbles and fossil tree trunks from the underlying units. Its margins are not seen, but it thins
overall towards both NW and SE. Busby etal.27 described the proximal equivalent to this unit c. 25km to the NE.
e tu is of intermediate composition (70% vitreous groundmass, 15% labradorite, 5% quartz, 6% biotite, 3%
hornblende, with subordinate lithic fragments, oxides, and zircon), and includes rare, shocked quartz 150µm
(Fig.4I). It nes upwards overall, with bands of coarse ash alternating with pumice lapilli (≤ 5cm diameter in
this section and bombs ca. 35cm in the area 25km to the NE). Our SHRIMP U–Pb dating of zircons yields an
age of 66.12 ± 0.65Ma (Supplementary Information, Fig.S2 and TableS4). Within error, the tu age we obtained
is indistinguishable from the 65.5 ± 0.6Ma Ar–Ar biotite age of the proximal tu27, both coeval with that pro-
posed for the Chicxulub impact, 66 Ma33.
Unit F (pebbly mudstone). e ≤ 18m thick unit above the tu (Fig.2) is similar in texture and composi-
tion to Units B and D, but its largest clasts rarely exceed 2cm in diameter. Poor exposure and surface alteration
Figure3. (A) Fossil wood with medullary rays (1) and growth rings (2), shown by weathering (lens cap 5cm);
(B) Fossil wood with bark preserved indicated by (1) (hammer is 30cm long); (C,D) Charred external portions
of trunks indicated by (1) (hammer is 30cm long).
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obscure any deformation structures. No palynomorphs were recovered from this unit; the few benthic foraminif-
era recovered were etched and fragmented, implying reworking.
Danian mudstones. e mudstones immediately above Unit F contain bathyal benthic foraminifera
(mostly Bathysiphon sp., Fig.4E, and lagenids) and an iridium anomaly (1.2ppb Ir, cf. Units B—0.3ppb, and
D—0.5ppb; Fig.5) comparable to K–Pg boundary interval deposits elsewhere, e.g., Brazos River34,35, where in
proximal and intermediate settings the iridium anomaly oen occurs atop mass ow clastic units, e.g.,7.
Pteridophytes spores account for 17% of a palynomorph assemblage dominated by fungal spores (Fig.5;
Supplementary Information, Fig.S2) as well asDanian dinocysts (e.g.,Damassadinium californicum). High con-
centrations of horizontally disposed Bathysiphon sp. also occur, and bioturbation is intense, with sub-centimetric
sand-lled burrows constituting up to 40% of these mudstones.
Discussion and conclusions
e tu age we obtained is identical within error to that proposed for the Chicxulub impact and the K–Pg
Boundary. e apparent absence of spherules and tektites is to be expected given the mixing and dilution within
the large volume debris ows and subsequent alteration to clay minerals similar to the muddy debrite matrix.
e stratigraphic position, architectural characteristics, radiometric ages, shocked quartz, iridium anomaly, and
fungal and fern spore spike all indicate that this was coincident with the K–Pg event (Fig.5).
e occurrence of fossil trees in Unit A, shelfal macrofauna in Unit C, and shallow-water benthic microfauna
throughout, clearly indicate downslope remobilization. Pebbly mudstones such as those in units B, D and F are
common in deep marine settings and are generally regarded as deposits of debris ows; the overall similarity
of these units suggests a single composite event consisting of more or less continuous debris ow punctuated
by faster and more turbulent surges represented by units C and E. Occurrence of exclusively unbioturbated
wood within Unit A unequivocally shows the transport of material from a subaerial setting. Transport of wood
Figure4. (A) Classopollis sp. tetrad, slide coordinates C44-4 (sample LOG-01–002); (B) Cluster of fungal
spores, slide coordinates C43-1 (sample LOG-01 MWD4); (C) Miliolid (sample LOG-05–03); (D) decalcied
Lagenid, (sample LOG-05–21); (E) Bathysiphon sp. (sample MWD-18); F) Isopora sp. corals; (G) Turritella webbi
gastropods, bivalve shells, pebbles, and cobbles; (H) Retipirula crassitesta gastropods; (I) shocked quartz crystal
(sample SF-30).
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(presumably buoyant) into the deep marine environment requires buoyancy less than the yield strength of the
debrite matrix (cf36. and discussion thereof).
Mass failures at many localities around the GoM and the Atlantic margin are attributed to impact-related
seismicity, of likely magnitude M10-11 (e.g.37,). We interpret the observed large-scale and widespread sliding in
the local coastal and slope settings of the Rosario Formation similarly (this study and27). Based on the mappable
extent of the mass failures, we estimate a minimum volume of 15 km3 in the immediate area alone.
Figure5. Generalized section of K–Pg catastrophic deposits in this study, showing lithologic units, the
occurrence of fossilized tree trunks, occurrences of selected abundant palynomorphs, foraminifers and
metazoan taxa, iridium concentrations, shocked quartz crystal occurrence, and absolute age.
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Impact-related tsunamis have been invoked for the onshore-directed transport of material in the US Western
Interior37, and for oshore-directed transport by tsunami backwash around the GoM8,36. Numerical modelling
of the impact-generated tsunami in the GoM, constrained by tsunami-related deposits on the Atlantic margin,
GoM and Caribbean, e.g.,14, appears to rule out propagation of signicant tsunami waves through the still-open
passage from the Caribbean to the Pacic38. We therefore attribute tsunami generation to the observed massive
seismogenic slope failure on the Pacic margin.
With P wave velocities of 6 to 8km s−1, e.g.,39, depending on the ray path, arrival times would have been
between 5 and 7min post-impact. Based on historic seismogenic mass failures, e.g.,40, sliding would have
occurred almost immediately, and the associated tsunami would have arrived within minutes to tens of minutes,
by which time the trees were already charred. e picture is thus one of seismically-triggered landsliding and
large-scale re-sedimentation of terrestrial and shallow-marine material by sediment gravity ows. e tsunami
(the rst of this age recorded from the Pacic margin) is likely to have propagated across the paleo-Pacic to
aect many coastal regions of the Earth within days of the impact.
e global presence of soot in K–Pg sequences has been used to argue either for wildres or for combustion
of mineral sources in sedimentary rocks and fossil hydrocarbons close to the impact site, e.g.,41, and references
therein]. However, uncertainties remain over the total mass of soot, the abundance of burn-related charcoal42,43,
the heat ux required to ignite live or dead vegetation, and the area over which the requisite heat ux could have
occurred, e.g.,44. Also uncertain is the timing of the res, either from the impact plume, e.g.,45,46, from ejecta
re-entering the atmosphere, e.g.,16,47,48, both of which are subject to uncertainties in impact energy, angle, and
trajectory, or due to subsequent lightning strikes over the following days to months in forest dead or dying from
the aer-eects of the impact23.
e presence of charcoal fragments and partially-charred fossilized tree trunks in the Rosario Formation
demonstrates that the adjacent coastal vegetation suered some high-intensity thermal event sucient to cause
combustion. e absence of any signs of decay implies that the trees were live when ignited and that charring of
the trees was specically a result of the impact event. Material that was charred prior to the event is likely to have
shown microbial degradation in the wood structure, so we can be condent that the charring was a consequence
of this event and not a pre-impact wildre. Charcoalied parts still attached to trunks indicate little exposure to
the air–water or water–sediment interface, since charcoal is extremely physically mobile and erodible49. Raman
spectroscopy yields temperatures between 395 and 1022°C, with a median of 716°C.
is high-temperature event occurred before the tsunami, i.e., within minutes to tens of minutes aer impact;
the timing is thus consistent with ignition either by thermal radiation emitted from the plume46 or by ejecta
re-entry48. e context and nature of preservation of charred material at this site suggest that wildres began
almost immediately aer impact and may have begun more easily than suggested by Belcher etal.44. e discrete
charcoal layer on the tree trunks would be consistent with ‘ash-heating’ alone (e.g., radiation) or of the con-
sequent wildre that was rapidly quenched by the tsunami, and therefore unable to alter signicantly the wood
below the outer surface charcoals. However, wildre propagation would have to have been extremely rapid in
the latter case. Further work would be required to dierentiate with certainty between these two possibilities.
Samples for all analyses presented in this paper were collected along Log 5, at the positions indicated on Sup-
plementary FigureS1, aimed at obtaining a complete prole through the local K–Pg boundary section, with
palynomorphs, foraminifera, macro charcoal, fossil wood, materials for dating, and iridium content, to ascertain
their correct relative stratigraphic position, and to correlate with other K–Pg sections globally. All gures and
tables related to the methods applied are available as Supplementary Information.
Palynology. Seventeen samples were collected through Log 5 (Supplementary Fig.S1) and were prepared at
the Marleni Marques Toigo Laboratory of Palynology at UFRGS, Porto Alegre, Brazil, using the methodology in
Supplementary TableS1. Counts of two hundred palynomorphs per slide were made where possible. Biostrati-
graphic determinations were made utilizing rst occurrence, last occurrence, and acme zones previously dened
onshore and oshore Mexico31,50 and the USA5155 to help determine the relative age. In addition, the color of
abundant spore Stereisporites spp. was recorded using the standard spore color index methodology56.
e lowermost samples, collected from a blue-gray mudstone (Unit A) demonstrate a diverse assemblage
of Maastrichtian palynomorphs, including pollen (e.g., Classopollis spp., Tricolporopollenitesspp.), spores (e.g.,
Biretisporites spp. and Todisporites spp.), and dinoagellate cysts, including the Cretaceous markers Dinogym-
nium spp. and Yolkinigymniumspp., with representatives of y-four genera of both marine and terrestrial forms
(Supplementary Fig.S2).
Above the bioclastic debrite, the abundance and diversity are severely reduced, with only seven genera and
the sample dominated by fungal spores (Fig.S2). 18m of section above the lapilli tu is barren of palynomorphs,
but rich in degraded humic debris. At the top of the study interval, a spike in fern spores is observed (e.g., Bacu-
latisporites comaumensis and Laevigatosporites spp.), along with diminutive Danian dinocysts (e.g., Damassa-
dinium californicum) and a distinct absence of any Cretaceous palynomorphs. e count data are presented in
Supplementary TableS2, where general groups of palynomorphs are also presented to demonstrate the wider
variation in oral abundance.
Foraminifers and macro charcoal quantication. Separation of foraminifera tests and macro char-
coal fragments was carried out concomitantly. Fieen samples were collected through Log 5 (collocated with
samples for palynology, as shown in Fig.S1). Preparation and identication were conducted following standard
procedures, e.g.,57, but the friable nature of the material simplied and shortened the process: 200g fractions
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(and in some cases 400g, for samples where recovery was poor) of each sample were immersed in a container
with distilled water. Aer a few minutes, the samples were gently disaggregated manually and ltered in a 63m
sieve to remove the clay minerals. e remaining material was then dried in an oven at a controlled temperature
of 40° Celsius.
Selection of specimens was conducted using a Leica S6D stereoscopic microscope, and identication of the
foraminifers was conducted using the ACEMAC Nano Scale Electron Microscopy and Analysis Facility at the
University of Aberdeen, with the Carl Zeiss Gemini SEM 300—high resolution Field Emission Scanning Elec-
tron Microscope (FESEM). Two hundred foraminifera specimens were counted and identied for each sample
when possible, and the data are presented on TableS3. Macro charcoal particles were counted, and their total
volumetric estimates were established based on the original volume of each sample.
Fossil wood. e material consists of three trunks collected from Log 5 site (Supplementary Fig.S1, location
map in Fig.2) that represent monopodial trees preserved as silica permineralization. Due to the size of these
trunks, the sampling method implemented consisted in removing a fragment of its outermost wood and col-
lecting dispersed wood fragments. Subsequently, the samples were transferred to the Paleobotany Laboratory of
the Institute of Geology, UNAM, where they were cut to obtain sections in the three cutting planes (transverse,
radial and tangential) used for wood anatomical studies. Conventional thin section techniques were applied.
e photomicrographs were obtained with a Canon PowerShot A640 camera and a Carl Zeiss AxioCam ICc 5.
Subsequently, they were assembled into photographic plates aided with Illustrator CS4 program.
e recognition of the anatomical characters was based on5862. For quantication, 20 measurements were
obtained per attribute, and for ray height, 35 measurements were made. Subsequently, for each characteristic,
its average minimum and maximum values were obtained, expressed as follows: average (minimum–maximum)
unit. Regarding the measurement and quantication of the tracheid radial pitting, the contiguity index (Cp) and
seriation index (Si) of63 were followed.
For the taxonomic identication of fossil woods at genus level, we followed61,62,6466. For species level identi-
cation, comparisons were made with conifer wood of extant species based mainly on59,67,68; while comparisons
with fossil wood articles describing wood of the same or similar taxa were also used, e.g.,6973.
Raman spectrometry. Raman spectra were obtained through random sampling of individual charcoal
fragments (n = 50) with no additional treatment. Charcoal sampling surfaces were selected for high reectivity
where possible to ensure an adequate spectral response. A laser power of < 0.3mW was applied over 3 accumula-
tions, totalling 15s exposure per sample. No combustion damage was observed on laser-irradiated surfaces post-
exposure. All spectra were deconvolved within Renishaw WiRE 3.4 soware, applying smoothing and a cubic
spline interpolative baseline, and bands D and G t solely. For geothermometric purposes, parameter FWHMRa
(D- and G-band width ratio) was utilised within the following equation74
See also Supplementary Information, TableS4, Fig.S3. Statistical analyses were conducted in IBM SPSS v. 25
via histogram and boxplot presentation (Supplementary FiguresS4 and S5, TableS5).
SHRIMP U–Pb zircon dating. For SHRIMP U–Pb zircon analyses, 1.5kg of a rock sample of the tu
(SF-30, indicated in Fig.S1) were crushed, powdered, and sieved. Heavy mineral concentrates were obtained by
panning, and puried using heavy liquid procedures. Grains were set in epoxy resin mount (together with the
Temora zircon standard) and polished. Backscattered electron and cathodoluminescence images were obtained
for better spot targeting using a FEI-QUANTA 250 scanning electron microscope equipped with secondary-
electron and cathodoluminescence (CL) detectors. e analyses were performed in a SHRIMP (sensitive high-
resolution ion microprobe) IIe/MC at the Center of Geochronological Research of the University of Sao Paulo
(CPGeo-USP) following the procedures described by75. 206Pb/238U ratio was calibrated using the standard
Temora76. Measured 204Pb was applied for the common lead correction77.
Data reduction, plots and calculated ages were carried out using Excel spreadsheets with the support of Squid
2.078 and Isoplot 3.079. A more detailed description can be found in80. Twenty-eight grains were analyzed, and
the data are presented in Supplementary TableS6. Supplementary FigureS6-A shows all results in the concordia
diagram; three analyses were interpreted as from detrital or inherited older grains (in green), and one analysis
was considered an outlier (in blue). e 24 remaining analyses yielded a 66.12 ± 0.65Ma concordia age (2 sigma
error) (Supplementary Fig.S3-B) and the same result was obtained from 206Pb/238U weighted mean age (2 sigma
error) (Supplementary Fig.S3-C).
Iridium analysis. ree samples were collected for iridium content analysis by NiS Fire Assay-Instrumental
Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) (indicated in Supplementary Fig.S1): two (Logs 5–7 and Logs 5–21) from
the pebbly mudstones of the K–Pg deposits and one (MWD-18) of the hemipelagic mudstone immediately
above. ey were pulverized to a nominal 2mm, mechanically split to obtain a representative sample and then
pulverized to at least 95% passing—105m or smaller. Samples were subsequently transferred to the ACTLAB
facilities in Ontario, Canada, and analyzed following the procedures described in81,82.
25g of each sample, along with 2 blanks, 3 certied standards and 3 duplicates, were re assayed using nickel
sulde (NiS) re assay procedure. e nickel sulde button was then dissolved in concentrated HCl, and the
Formation temperature
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residues of this reaction, containing all the iridium (and other PGE) were then collected on a lter paper. is
residue was then submitted to two irradiations and three separate counts to measure all the elements.
Iridium concentrations for the three samples analyzed and used in this paper are presented in TableS7, along
with detection limits of the method used.
Data availability
All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article (and its supplementary
information les). Samples collected and prepared for all laboratory analyzes are available upon request.
Received: 23 May 2022; Accepted: 22 July 2022
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ASC, JM and AM acknowledge support from BG/Shell Brasil through ‘BG05 UoA-UFRGS-SWB Sedimentary
Basins’ and ‘DMS Tools’ projects at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, and strategic support by Agência
Nacional do Petróleo, Brazil, through the R&D Brazilian levy regulation. Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento
Cientíco e Tecnológico (CNPq) is also acknowledged for scholarship to ASC (211796/2013-1) during her thesis
at University of Aberdeen, and for research fellow support to JM (316460/2021-4). We also acknowledge Kei Sato
from Universidade de São Paulo for assistance with U-Pb determination.
Author contributions
A.S.C. undertook eldwork and micropaleontological and all subsequent data analysis and interpretation as part
of her doctoral thesis and draed the initial manuscript. B.K. conceived of and supervised the study, contributed
to the interpretation, and co-authored the manuscript. J.M. performed the isotopic analyses and interpretation.
A.Mc.A. carried out the palynological analyses and interpretation. A.Mc.A., I.K., and J.M. contributed to the eld
supervision. S.C.-F. performed the paleobotanical analysis and contributed to the interpretation. T.T. and D.M.
conducted and interpreted the Raman spectroscopy analysis. All authors edited the nal manuscript.
Competing interests
e authors declare no competing interests.
Additional information
Supplementary Information e online version contains supplementary material available at https:// doi. org/
10. 1038/ s41598- 022- 17292-y.
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A bolide impact ~66 million years ago near Chicxulub, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico triggered environmental perturbations on a global scale, leading to mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. Outcrops on the U.S Gulf Coastal Plain that contain the K-Pg boundary provide a detailed record of environments across this critical transition, but questions remain about the nature and timing of depositional processes that affected the region at the time of impact and mass extinction. We present a new study of coarse-grained K-Pg ‘event deposits’ located at the contact between the fossiliferous Cretaceous Corsicana Formation and the Danian Kincaid Formation, and which outcrop in tributaries along the Brazos River, Falls County, Texas. A generalized succession can be recognized in these deposits. We sampled the basal-most unconsolidated units, Unit I and Unit II, and the Corsicana Formation for macrofaunal and sedimentological data. Unit I is interpreted as a debrite, deposited by a medium – high strength cohesive debris flow initiated by ground shaking and intense seismic activity after the Chicxulub impact. Macrofossil analysis shows a mostly locally derived assemblage. Grain size analysis of non‑carbonate portions of the matrix indicates an identical mean grain size to that of the underlying Corsicana Formation. The chaotic fabric, boulder sized clasts, and muddy matrix support the interpretation of deposition via cohesive debris flow. Unit II is also interpreted as a debrite, deposited by a low-medium strength cohesive debris flow. We propose that this unit was initiated by wave energy from a tsunami or local shelf collapse immediately following impact. Macrofossil analysis of Unit II shows an increase in fauna with a predatory/carnivorous lifestyle, which are interpreted as allochthonous elements derived from shoreward environments and transported across the shelf. The high mud content of the matrix and abrupt pinching out on topographic highs support the interpretation of deposition via a cohesive debris flow for Unit II. Our results indicate that sediment flows were a major driver of mass sediment transport in proximal locations directly following the Chicxulub impact.
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Charcoal geothermometry continues to offer considerable potential in the study of palaeowildfires over decadal, centennial, millennial, and deep time scales—with substantial implications for the understanding of modern wildfire intensification. Recent developments in the application of Raman spectroscopy to carbonaceous organic material have indicated its capability to potentially reconstruct the palaeocharcoal formation temperature, and equivalent palaeowildfire pyrolysis intensity. Charcoal reflectance geothermometry (which also relies upon microstructural change with thermal maturation) has also been the subject of extensive modern evaluation, with multiple studies highlighting the key influence of energy flux on the resultant charcoal microstructure. The ability to accurately quantify modern wildfire temperatures based upon novel Raman-charcoal analyses has not yet been attempted. Using Raman band width-ratios (i.e., FWHMRa) and accompanying geothermometric trends to natural wildfire charcoals, our results identify differences between microstructurally-derived fire temperatures compared to those recorded during the fire event itself. Subsequent assessments of wildfire energy flux over time indicate no dominant influence for the observed differences, due to the inherent complexity of natural fire systems. Further analysis within this study, regarding the influence of reference pyrolysis methodology on microstructural change, also highlights the difficulty of creating accurate post-fire temperature reconstructions. The application of Raman spectroscopy, however, to the quantification of relative changes in fire temperature continues to prove effective and insightful.
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The impact of asteroids and comets with planetary surfaces is one of the most catastrophic, yet ubiquitous, geological processes in the solar system. The Chicxulub impact event, which has been linked to the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction marking the beginning of the Cenozoic Era, is arguably the most significant singular geological event in the past 100 million years of Earth’s history. The Chicxulub impact occurred in a marine setting. How quickly the seawater re-entered the newly formed basin after the impact, and its effects of it on the cratering process, remain debated. Here, we show that the explosive interaction of seawater with impact melt led to molten fuel–coolant interaction (MFCI), analogous to what occurs during phreatomagmatic volcanic eruptions. This process fractured and dispersed the melt, which was subsequently deposited subaqueously to form a series of well-sorted deposits. These deposits bear little resemblance to the products of impacts in a continental setting and are not accounted for in current classification schemes for impactites. The similarities between these Chicxulub deposits and the Onaping Formation at the Sudbury impact structure, Canada, are striking, and suggest that MFCI and the production of volcaniclastic-like deposits is to be expected for large impacts in shallow marine settings.
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Significance Debate lingers over what caused the last mass extinction 66 million years ago, with intense volcanism and extraterrestrial impact the most widely supported hypotheses. However, without empirical evidence for either’s exact environmental effects, it is difficult to discern which was most important in driving extinction. It is also unclear why recovery of biodiversity and carbon cycling in the oceans was so slow after an apparently sudden extinction event. In this paper, we show (using boron isotopes and Earth system modeling) that the impact caused rapid ocean acidification, and that the resulting ecological collapse in the oceans had long-lasting effects for global carbon cycling and climate. Our data suggest that impact, not volcanism, was key in driving end-Cretaceous mass extinction.
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West Java in the western part of the Sunda Arc has a relatively high seismicity due to subduction activity and faults. In this study, double-difference tomography was used to obtain the 3D velocity tomograms of P and S waves beneath the western part of Java. To infer the geometry of the structure beneath the study area, precise earthquake hypocenter determination was first performed before tomographic imaging. For this, earthquake waveform data were extracted from the regional Meteorological, Climatological, Geophysical Agency (BMKG) network of Indonesia from South Sumatra to Central Java. The P and S arrival times for about 1,000 events in the period April 2009 to July 2016 were selected, the key features being events of magnitude > 3, azimuthal gap < 210° and number of phases > 8. A nonlinear method using the oct-tree sampling algorithm from the NonLinLoc program was employed to determine the earthquake hypocenters. The hypocenter locations were then relocated using double-difference tomography (tomoDD). A significant reduction of travel-time (root mean square basis) and a better clustering of earthquakes were achieved which correlated well with the geological structure in West Java. Double-difference tomography was found to give a clear velocity structure, especially beneath the volcanic arc area, i.e., under Mt Anak Krakatau, Mt Salak and the mountains complex in the southern part of West Java. Low velocity anomalies for the P and S waves as well as the vP/vS ratio below the volcanoes indicated possible partial melting of the upper mantle which ascended from the subducted slab beneath the volcanic arc.
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A late Cretaceous slope channel system in NW Mexico reveals much about the architecture of such systems, and the sedimentological, biological and oceanographic diversity within them.
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Significance The Chicxulub impact played a crucial role in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction. However the earliest postimpact effects, critical to fully decode the profound influence on Earth’s biota, are poorly understood due to a lack of high-temporal-resolution contemporaneous deposits. The Tanis site, which preserves a rapidly deposited, ejecta-bearing bed in the Hell Creek Formation, helps to resolve that long-standing deficit. Emplaced immediately (minutes to hours) after impact, Tanis provides a postimpact “snapshot,” including ejecta accretion and faunal mass death, advancing our understanding of the immediate effects of the Chicxulub impact. Moreover, we demonstrate that the depositional event, calculated to have coincided with the arrival of seismic waves from Chicxulub, likely resulted from a seismically coupled local seiche.
The extinction of the dinosaurs and around three-quarters of all living species was almost certainly caused by a large asteroid impact 66 million years ago. Seismic data acquired across the impact site in Mexico have provided spectacular images of the approximately 200-kilometre-wide Chicxulub impact structure. In this Review, we show how studying the impact site at Chicxulub has advanced our understanding of formation of large craters and the environmental and palaeontological consequences of this impact. The Chicxulub crater’s asymmetric shape and size suggest an oblique impact and an impact energy of about 1023 joules, information that is important for quantifying the climatic effects of the impact. Several thousand gigatonnes of asteroidal and target material were ejected at velocities exceeding 5 kilometres per second, forming a fast-moving cloud that transported dust, soot and sulfate aerosols around the Earth within hours. These impact ejecta and soot from global wildfires blocked sunlight and caused global cooling, thus explaining the severity and abruptness of the mass extinction. However, it remains uncertain whether this impact winter lasted for many months or for more than a decade. Further combined palaeontological and proxy studies of expanded Cretaceous–Palaeogene transitions should further constrain the climatic response and the precise cause and selectivity of the extinction. The Chicxulub impact 66 million years ago caused catastrophic environmental changes, leading to the extinction of three-quarters of plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs. This Review explores how the Chicxulub impact structure provides insight into cratering processes and events leading to the Cretaceous–Palaeogene extinction. The Chicxulub impact ended the Mesozoic era and was almost certainly the principal cause of the Cretaceous–Palaeogene (K–Pg) mass extinction.Seismic images of the approximately 200-km-wide Chicxulub impact structure reveal that it has the same morphology as the largest impact basins on other solid planetary bodies, such as the Lise Meitner and Klenova craters on Venus.Rocks from the impact site and asteroid were ejected within an impact plume and ejecta curtain. Ejection velocity is a function of shock pressure, with the most-shocked rocks leaving the impact site at >11 km s–1 (escape velocity).The high-velocity ejecta interacted with the Earth’s atmosphere to form a fast-moving cloud that carried dust, soot, sulfate aerosols and other ejecta around the Earth within 4–5 hours of impact.Ejecta within the cloud, along with soot from wildfires, caused the Earth to become dark and cold for about a decade, and induced longer-term (decadal to millennial) temperature changes and chemical changes in the ocean.This extended impact winter explains the abruptness and severity of the mass extinction, as well as its selective impact on different organisms. The Chicxulub impact ended the Mesozoic era and was almost certainly the principal cause of the Cretaceous–Palaeogene (K–Pg) mass extinction. Seismic images of the approximately 200-km-wide Chicxulub impact structure reveal that it has the same morphology as the largest impact basins on other solid planetary bodies, such as the Lise Meitner and Klenova craters on Venus. Rocks from the impact site and asteroid were ejected within an impact plume and ejecta curtain. Ejection velocity is a function of shock pressure, with the most-shocked rocks leaving the impact site at >11 km s–1 (escape velocity). The high-velocity ejecta interacted with the Earth’s atmosphere to form a fast-moving cloud that carried dust, soot, sulfate aerosols and other ejecta around the Earth within 4–5 hours of impact. Ejecta within the cloud, along with soot from wildfires, caused the Earth to become dark and cold for about a decade, and induced longer-term (decadal to millennial) temperature changes and chemical changes in the ocean. This extended impact winter explains the abruptness and severity of the mass extinction, as well as its selective impact on different organisms.
A new wood type for the Baja California Cretaceous adds to the plant diversity so far known for the area where gymnosperms seem to be dominant. It was collected near El Rosario, Baja California, from rocks of the Rosario Formation, in a sedimentary sequence that comprises ca. 1200 m of non-marine to deep marine sediments from Upper Campanian to Lower Danian age. The wood is characterized by having semiring porous growth rings, predominantly radial multiples of 2–7 with occasional clusters and some solitary vessels, simple perforation plates, alternate intervascular pits, oval to large elliptical vessel element-ray pits with reduced borders, septate thin-walled fibers, 1–4 seriate heterocellular rays, scares paratracheal, vasicentric and marginal parenchyma and oil cells associated with ray parenchyma. All these characters are found in Lauraceae, however, none of the extant taxa of the family have all these characters and even among fossil woods the characters in the Baja California material are better described only among the diverse Laurinoxylon, but vessel grouping, growth ring type, absence of marginal parenchyma, and slightly thicker rays suggest the presence of a new taxon, Rosarioxylon bajacaliforniensis Cevallos-Ferriz, Catharina & Kneller. By the end of the Cretaceous the family formed part of the plant community that represents a western extension of vegetation types more completely described from areas in the margins of the southern limits of the Western Interior Sea. The new taxon is proposed to highlight anatomical differences and geographic isolation from similar taxa and further suggests a large distribution of Lauraceae in what appears to be conifer dominated communities.
Significance Burn markers are observed in many records of the Cretaceous–Paleogene asteroid impact and mass extinction event. These materials could be derived from wildfires on land or from sedimentary rocks hit by the asteroid. We present a detailed record of molecular burn markers (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs]) from the Chicxulub crater and in ocean sediments distant from the impact site. PAH features indicate rapid heating and a fossil carbon source and are consistent with sedimentary carbon ejected from the impact crater and dispersed by the atmosphere. Target rock-derived soot immediately contributed to global cooling and darkening that curtailed photosynthesis and caused widespread extinction. PAH evidence indicates wildfires were present but less influential on global climate and extinction.