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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Aug 4;106(31):12623-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0906374106. Epub 2009 Jul 20.

Shock-synthesized hexagonal diamonds in Younger Dryas boundary sediments.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology and Museum of Natural and Cultural History, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA. dkennett@uoregon.edu

Abstract

The long-standing controversy regarding the late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions in North America has been invigorated by a hypothesis implicating a cosmic impact at the Allerød-Younger Dryas boundary or YDB (approximately 12,900 +/- 100 cal BP or 10,900 +/- 100 (14)C years). Abrupt ecosystem disruption caused by this event may have triggered the megafaunal extinctions, along with reductions in other animal populations, including humans. The hypothesis remains controversial due to absence of shocked minerals, tektites, and impact craters. Here, we report the presence of shock-synthesized hexagonal nanodiamonds (lonsdaleite) in YDB sediments dating to approximately 12,950 +/- 50 cal BP at Arlington Canyon, Santa Rosa Island, California. Lonsdaleite is known on Earth only in meteorites and impact craters, and its presence strongly supports a cosmic impact event, further strengthened by its co-occurrence with other nanometer-sized diamond polymorphs (n-diamonds and cubics). These shock-synthesized diamonds are also associated with proxies indicating major biomass burning (charcoal, carbon spherules, and soot). This biomass burning at the Younger Dryas (YD) onset is regional in extent, based on evidence from adjacent Santa Barbara Basin and coeval with broader continent-wide biomass burning. Biomass burning also coincides with abrupt sediment mass wasting and ecological disruption and the last known occurrence of pygmy mammoths (Mammuthus exilis) on the Channel Islands, correlating with broader animal extinctions throughout North America. The only previously known co-occurrence of nanodiamonds, soot, and extinction is the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) impact layer. These data are consistent with abrupt ecosystem change and megafaunal extinction possibly triggered by a cosmic impact over North America at approximately 12,900 +/- 100 cal BP.

PMID:
19620728
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2722287
Free PMC Article

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