How deep sea creatures survived the dino-killing asteroid strike

Sinking algae allowed deep-dwellers to eke out a living near the ocean floor.

By Brooks Hays

CARDIFF, Wales, April 14 (UPI) -- The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs killed almost everything, even giant marine reptiles, invertebrates and microbes. Deep sea creatures, however, managed to survive.

A new study out of Wales attempts to explain how that happened.


Chemical analysis of ancient fossilized shells from both sea surface and seafloor species suggest a slow trickle of organic matter, including algae and other microbes, continued in the wake of the asteroid strike. It was these sinking nutrients that allowed deep-dwelling organisms to survive.

Researchers from the University of Cardiff were able to gather fossilized shells dated to aftermath of the dinosaurs' disappearance from cores drilled from the ocean floor in the South Atlantic.

"Our results show that despite a wave of massive and virtually instantaneous extinctions among the plankton, some types of photosynthesizing organisms, such as algae and bacteria, were living in the aftermath of the asteroid strike," Heather Birch, study leader and Cardiff researcher, explained in a press release.

"This provided a slow trickle of food for organisms living near the ocean floor which enabled them to survive the mass extinction, answering one of the outstanding questions that still remained regarding this period of history," Birch said.


Though the trickle allowed deep sea creatures to eke out a living, it was some 2 million years after the asteroid strike -- 65 million years ago -- before ocean ecosystems stabilized and allowed species to evolve and refill the niches left absent by extinct sea creatures.

The new research was published last month in the journal Geology.

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