Kerr Watch

Elapsed time since Richard Kerr failed to inform his Science readers of the confirmation of nanodiamonds at the YDB: 6 years, 2 months, and 1 day

They’re back! This just in from Pinter and the gang. It’s a rehash of Pinter’s Powerpoint at the AMQUA conference last fall. I have some pretty good notes regarding his points at that time and will write a little blog when I get the entire paper and read it (something I am not sure they do).

I should have responded to the AMQUA attack at the time, but with two kids, two companies, two blogs — and the fact it was made privately at the conference and he refused to allow me to film him — I failed to do so at the time. Now it’s a “paper” and deserves some refutation, if only from your humble Tusk.

I am interested to see how they treat the fact that three scientists, including a fellow-traveler to some extent, Phil Claeys, found peaks they suggest below [in the abstract] don’t exist. (Claeys was so surprised they found something, they had to give their paper that cute name.)

I am surprised to see Real Climate pick up on the paper so quickly. Interesting blog by Gavin Schmidt. I detect a little reluctance on his part to give up the ghost quite so quickly. Worry not, Gav. Time will turn this story once more.

The Younger Dryas impact hypothesis: A requiem

Nicholas Pinter, Andrew C. Scott , Tyrone L. Daulton, Andrew Podoll, Christian Koeberl, R. Scott Anderson, and Scott E. Ishman, Southern Illinois University, Dept. of Geology, Carbondale, IL 62901–4324, USA Royal Holloway University of London, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, UKWashington University in St. Louis, Dept. of Physics, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA
University of Vienna, Dept. of Lithospheric Research, Althanstrasse 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria, and Natural History Museum, Burgring 7, A-1010 Vienna, Austria Northern Arizona University, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA
Received 3 August 2010; accepted 15 February 2011. Available online 22 February 2011.
The Younger Dryas (YD) impact hypothesis is a recent theory that suggests that a cometary or meteoritic body or bodies hit and/or exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, causing the YD climate episode, extinction of Pleistocene megafauna, demise of the Clovis archaeological culture, and a range of other effects. Since gaining widespread attention in 2007, substantial research has focused on testing the 12 main signatures presented as evidence of a catastrophic extraterrestrial event 12,900 years ago. Here we present a review of the impact hypothesis, including its evolution and current variants, and of efforts to test and corroborate the hypothesis.

The physical evidence interpreted as signatures of an impact event can be separated into two groups. The first group consists of evidence that has been largely rejected by the scientific community and is no longer in widespread discussion, including: particle tracks in archeological chert; magnetic nodules in Pleistocene bones; impact origin of the Carolina Bays; and elevated concentrations of radioactivity, iridium, and fullerenes enriched in 3He. The second group consists of evidence that has been active in recent research and discussions: carbon spheres and elongates, magnetic grains and magnetic spherules, byproducts of catastrophic wildfire, and nanodiamonds. Over time, however, these signatures have also seen contrary evidence rather than support. Recent studies have shown that carbon spheres and elongates do not appear to represent extraterrestrial carbon nor impact-induced megafires, but rather fungal sclerotia and arthropod fecal material that are a small but common component of many terrestrial deposits. Magnetic grains and spherules are heterogeneously distributed in sediments, but reported measurements of unique peaks in concentrations at the YD onset have yet to be reproduced. The magnetic grains are certainly just iron-rich detrital grains, whereas reported YD magnetic spherules are consistent with the diffuse, non-catastrophic input of micrometeorite ablation fallout, probably augmented by anthropogenic and other terrestrial spherular grains. Results here also show considerable subjectivity in the reported sampling methods that may explain the purported YD spherule concentration peaks. Fire is a pervasive earth-surface process, and reanalyses of the original YD sites and of coeval records show episodic fire on the landscape through the latest Pleistocene, with no unique fire event at the onset of the YD. Lastly, with YD impact proponents increasingly retreating to nanodiamonds (cubic, hexagonal [lonsdaleite], and the proposed n-diamond) as evidence of impact, those data have been called into question. The presence of lonsdaleite was reported as proof of impact-related shock processes, but the evidence presented was inconsistent with lonsdaleite and consistent instead with polycrystalline aggregates of graphene and graphane mixtures that are ubiquitous in carbon forms isolated from sediments ranging from modern to pre-YD age. Important questions remain regarding the origins and distribution of other diamond forms (e.g., cubic nanodiamonds).

In summary, none of the original YD impact signatures have been subsequently corroborated by independent tests. Of the 12 original lines of evidence, seven have so far proven to be non-reproducible. The remaining signatures instead seem to represent either (1) non-catastrophic mechanisms, and/or (2) terrestrial rather than extraterrestrial or impact-related sources. In all of these cases, sparse but ubiquitous materials seem to have been misreported and misinterpreted as singular peaks at the onset of the YD. Throughout the arc of this hypothesis, recognized and expected impact markers were not found, leading to proposed YD impactors and impact processes that were novel, self-contradictory, rapidly changing, and sometimes defying the laws of physics. The YD impact hypothesis provides a cautionary tale for researchers, the scientific community, the press, and the broader public.

Keywords: impact markers; carbonaceous spherules; magnetic spherules; nanodiamonds; sclerotia; impact cratering; wildfire; Younger Dryas