Quirks & Quarks

The Antarctic did not escape the mass extinction

Scientists had thought life at the poles might have been less vulnerable to the dinosaur extinction event, but they weren't.

The extinction that killed the dinosaurs also devastated polar species

Seymour Island, off the Antarctic peninsula, where the fossils were found (James Witts)
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A mass extinction, 66 million years ago, triggered by a giant impact in the Yucatan basin, wiped out three-quarters of all plant and animal life on Earth, including, famously, the dinosaurs. But many scientists have hypothesized that the extinction was not as severe in polar regions, particularly the Antarctic.

The reason for this belief was twofold: firstly, the Antarctic was far away from the Caribbean impact; but secondly, polar life was already adapted to the "nuclear winter" conditions created by the impact - long periods of complete darkness.

But a new study by James Witts, a PhD student in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, has put that theory to rest. His study of more than 6,000 marine fossils from Seymour Island in the Antarctic has determined that the extinction was just as rapid and severe at higher latitudes as everywhere else on the planet.

Related Links

Paper in Nature Communications
- University of Leeds release