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OPINION

Eye on France: Tough times for T-Rex

Who dun it? Was Tyrannosaurus Rex killed by lava flows or an asteroid? Or both?
Who dun it? Was Tyrannosaurus Rex killed by lava flows or an asteroid? Or both? AFP

Boosted by purring praise for an earlier article on the recently-bereaved Choupette Lagerfeld, Kaiser Karl’s cat, Eye on France today takes a look at Tyrannosaurus Rex, asking what killed the big lizard who gave up the ghost, along with all the other dinosaurs, about 66 million years ago.

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Things were bad 66 million years ago. Very bad. Instead of Brexit and Donald Trump, they had at least two global catastrophes, very close together.

The earth was struck by a massive meteorite and, at the same geological instant (that is, within fifty thousand or so years) was ravaged by a series of enormous volcanic eruptions.

The crucial question is which of these events did in the dinosaurs?

“What we can be sure of,” says Thierry Adatte of the University of Lausanne, one of the co-authors of a report on that very question in the highly-respected magazine Science, “is that the giant reptiles were already on their last legs by the time the meteorite struck.”

Cut to 66 million years ago.

The dinosaurs have, at this stage, been the lords of creation for more than one hundred million years.

Back to the future

But an enormous space rock is about to crash into Planet Earth, create what we now call the Gulf of Mexico, and cause so much ecological damage that there will be nothing left for the dinosaurs to dine on. The end is near.

Just as an aside, that meteor strike is estimated by scientists to have created a tidal wave 1,500 metres high. Tyrannosaurus was tough, but he was no match for that.

But, back to the cabbage patch ... around about the same time, in the place we now call India, billions of tons of molten lava are pouring out of the Deccan trappes (from the Swedish word for a stairs), causing, first, global cooling as enormous dust clouds prevent sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface, and then dramatically reversing the effect as the boiling lava warms sea water and spews billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

As Thierry Adatte puts it, “by the time the meteor arrived, life on Earth was already facing very hostile conditions.”

Dinosaurs struck by double blow

This would all be fine and dandy if it wasn’t for a separate article in the same edition of Science, with a different research team proposing a different chronology.

These guys have studied crystals in the soil from all over the planet, and have come up with what they call a more accurate dating for the Deccan eruptions.

They think that the meteor strike and the eruptions were so close together that there may well have been a direct link. Could the explosion of energy released by the meteor have been the direct cause of what was probably the worst volcanic sequence in global history? That, as Hamlet might have put it, is a different game of marbles. But the underlying story remains the same.

Give or take one hundred thousand years, we’re all on the same page.

Could it happen again?

All the lads agree that there have been five major extinctions in Earth history.

The first four were definitely caused by volcanic eruptions and the impact of subsequent climatic changes; only the dinosaur disaster has been linked to a meteor hit.

Which suggests that the Earth itself has been the source of the worst difficulties for life on Earth, and that the skies can be regarded as relatively benign. Unless you're a betting man and think it must be nearly time for another surprise from outer space!

Most scientists also agree that we are currently struggling through the sixth major global extinction, with bees, polar bears, us and Choupette Lagerfeld all heading down the same tube.

This time, at least and tragically, there’s no doubt about what’s causing it.

Unless, of course, your name is Donald Trump!

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