If there’s one thing that no doubt is going to kill off the human race, it is our dependence on oil. Having been beyond overreliant on it for more than a half-century, we’ve burned through more than our planet can handle, pumping toxic gases into the atmosphere, ones that will likely make Earth inhospitable over the next hundred years.
Man, fuck oil. That ain’t cool.
Of course, we wouldn’t be who we are today if not for it. But there might be even more to that than you think. Is it possible that oil is the reason the dinosaurs died, but mammals didn’t?
That’s always been a question with the K-T extinction event. Why did it wipe out some species, but not others? How did mammals survive when dinosaurs didn’t? How did crocodiles survive, because they’re basically the same fucking thing as a dinosaur?
The answer could be oil.
According to Kunio Kaiho and his colleagues at Tohoku University, in Sendai, Japan, the sudden ignition of underground oil at the Yucatán impact site could have jetted into the upper atmosphere a mass of fine black carbon, also known as soot. Human-made black carbon, the bane of Beijing, remains in the lower atmosphere for only a matter of days before falling back to the surface, where it warms the planet by absorbing heat. But black carbon injected into the stratosphere would have the opposite effect, acting as a long-lived sunshade that could abruptly cool Earth and inhibit photosynthesis over a period of years.
Kaiho’s team suggests that the asteroid may have sent up as much as three billion tons of soot, hundreds of times more than the world’s industries release each year.
To test the new theory, Kaiho’s team compared samples of sooty material found in late Cretaceous rocks from both close to the impact (in Haiti) and far away (Spain). They found that the samples were chemically similar to each other and bore the molecular fingerprint of crude-oil combustion—a particular hydrocarbon called superbenzene, or coronene, for its six-ring structure. They point out that the rocks at the Yucatán impact site are known to bear oil: indeed, drill cores taken in the nineteen-fifties by the Mexican oil company Pemex were key to the discovery of the crater. They then calculated how much black carbon could have been produced by flash-heating, and ran high-resolution computer simulations to explore the specific effects at different locations of both soot and sulfate in the stratosphere, month by month.
The result is a much different explanation for why some species perished and others did not.
The modelling shows that the cooling effects of sulfate aerosols alone would have been smaller than previously thought, but that the combination of sulfur and soot can explain some of the subtler aspects of the end-Cretaceous fossil record. In particular, the simulations reveal more dramatic cooling in polar than in equatorial regions, consistent with the pattern of marine extinctions. The models also suggest that severe drought would have transformed once lush regions within fifteen degrees of the equator, already devastated by limited photosynthesis, into Saharas. In these areas, large herbivores dependent on fresh greens, and the carnivores that ate them, would have quickly starved. Freshwater organisms that could live off plant detritus, in rivers still running by rain from higher latitudes, would have been among the few survivors. Hence the lucky frogs.
Well, there you have it, man. Oil. Now responsible for our emergence, our transcendence, and our demise.
That is some weird-ass, circular shit.
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[Via The New Yorker]