Exploring abrupt climate change induced by comets and asteroids during human history

Field Report: Andronikov Expedition to Examine Black Mat

Black Mat — Andronikov 2011–Lower Younger Dryas Boundary Europe Report

6 Responses

  1. George – Thanks for posting this. I am just beginning to read the report (not, as you informed me, a paper), and wanted to comment to Ed…

    Ed, this jumped out at me in paragraph 1:

    …we conducted field work in Western Europe (Belgium and the Netherlands)
    from May 2 to May 13 2011, and in Russia (St. Petersburg) from May 14 to May 30 supported
    by the NASA Astrobiology Institute travel grants for A. Andronikov and R. Maxwell.

    Seeing as the name of the project is “On the Question of a Possible Extraterrestrial Impact 12.9 ka: EMP and (LA)-ICP-MS Study of Potentially Extraterrestrial Markers from the Lower Younger Dryas Boundary,” the funding of their travel by NASA seems to be entirely out of keeping with Dave Morrison as you know him. It seems hardly in keeping with his anti-impact position.

    Your comments?

  2. In reading this report, it is amazing how fortunate the researchers were. Almost everywhere, they were able to tap into (all but literally) the works of earlier researchers – and even when they weren’t (one site was flooded), miraculously a utility trench had been dug, seemingly just for their convenience. All in all, they covered a vast amount of sites for such a brief field trip.

    One thing the working sites illustrated is how many researchers are giving the Y-D impact serious consideration. This is very heartening.

    The photos in the report show very clearly that something clearly happened at the beginning of the Holocene. At Lossel, even without the Usselo Horizon black streak (sometimes more than a streak), there is a clear delineation between the “before” and “after” materials laid down. Some condition changed – and never changed back. Without the black mat/streak in between, the climatological hypothesis might have more standing. But it is there, and no climate change can explain both the black mat and the change of deposits before and after, right at that moment in time. With the black mat/streak the weight has to lean toward a more catastrophic event.

    I guess we will all be confidently hopeful, awaiting the results of the samples collected.

    I agree with you now, George – the weight of the evidence is bit by bit winning researchers over to the impact scenario, and that they are only changing their minds step by step. That is good; it means they are being skeptical and yet are being persuaded. It took a couple of decades for the dinosaur killer of 65Mya to be accepted. This seems to be following a somewhat similar acceptance curve. And that seems to be a reasonable time scheme.

    Now is the time to field test for evidence (as opposed to drawing broad conclusions), to collect enough to support or falsify the Y-D impact hypothesis. To me, that sounds like solid science. But the real issue IMO will be in asking what it all means to our view of human history.

    …The tsunami speculation by Annalies van Hoesel is a startling conclusion, if it holds up. If it turns out there was a tsunami at the time of the Y-D impact, it clearly means that more than one impact occurred. A tsunami did not happen due to an impact in or around the Great Lakes when they were covered in ice. Not directly from it, anyway. One can speculate that it is within the realm of possibility that one or any number of large ejecta landed in the North Atlantic. It seems somewhat more likely that a second primary impact was in the Atlantic, though if so, there would be tsunami evidence along the American – closer – coastline. That would be an appropriate future line of inquiry, I think, if the tsunami evidence pans out in Belgium.

    My overall picture of all this doesn’t stop with the impacts themselves.

    1. Along with Ed and most of you, I think that if it is shown that the Y-D impact occurred, at some point the question has to be asked what we really know about the frequency and when else it has happened – and when can it happen again? Some ivory tower formulas from 100-50 years ago tell everyone that impacts only occur every 100,000 years or so, and the Y-D shoots that all to hell. We (me just kibitzing) are covering this, but it has to go mainstream for anything to be learned and – the important thing – something done about mitigation. What Pandora’s box opens when the Y-D impact proves out?

    2. If and when proven out, it will put our present civilization in a new light (to the world at large), in a very precarious situation: We are an exposed civilization, and we could be back to square one in a heartbeat. (Am I wrong in crying “The sky is falling!”? – Hopefully, and if I am wrong, I would be happy to be.)

    3. Question: Does the Y-D impact suggest that we may have developed before and then gotten hammered “back to the stone age”? Many non-scientists who look at megalithic sites see this as a reasonable question to ask. I am not talking Atlantis. It doesn’t matter what name it had. With the two recent tsunamis (the first really big ones in 450 years), we can begin to see how little our cities can stand up to a relatively small tsunami. If we ever see a mega-tsunami like the one Ed agrees happened, how widespread and how totally will the destruction be? If even the Azores half-mountain goes into the Atlantic, the American eastern seaboard will be much worse than Japan was this past year. And a large impact might take out Bermuda or Wake Island, or all low-lying cities on the coast facing the impact site. Could the same have happened to an earlier, somewhat developed, world? It seems possible.

    4. The real issue is: What effect can knowing all this have on us, if it is true? If it isn’t true, that should come out eventually. But the evidence seems to be piling up: The Y-D impact seems to be increasingly real; tsunamis wreak great carnage; both known and unknown NEOs are out there, of varying sizes, and we don’t know our level of risk.

    We have the capacity to answer the above concerns, but only if we don’t pretend the risk doesn’t exist. Playing ostrich isn’t in our best interests. I’d really not like future generations to have to live in rock shelters for 13,000 years before central heating and refrigerators are reinvented.

    If we all find out that the Y-D impact actually DID happen, it isn’t just an academic exercise. What happened before can certainly happen again. And if we do find out it has happened, we can’t ever put the genie back in the bottle.

  3. Hi Steve –

    Thanks for pointing out the travel grant from the Astrobiology Institute. Perhaps Morrison expected negative evidence.

    You’re right, this is not simply an academic exercise, nor a dispute over which NASA center gets work.

    The problem is time, and closing the window of vulnerability as fast as possible.
    We can easily handle 30 to 60 meter diameter fragments.
    IF we get warning time, we can handle larger impactors.
    We can prepare food supplies, storage and transport, for dust loads.

    The deadline is our interception of 73P’s fragment/debris stream in 2022.
    This is field work that should have been done in 2006.

    Impacts explain many of civilization’s setbacks.

  4. Ed –

    “Impacts explain many of civilization’s setbacks.”


    I am active in this and also in global warming skepticism, as you yourself know. Doing both, sometimes I wonder if I do here the same thing I accuse global warming folks of – run around yelling “Wolf!” The reason is partly that I think their thing is not real, and this one I think is. It is also partly because this one can set us back 5,000 or 10,000 years, while global warming is something humans can adapt to.

    Should we run around screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”? I we can do it with some level of dignity, I think so. Not that we should let our dignity get in the way, but if we don’t at least look somewhat serious, we run the risk of being seen as loons. You all know what I am talking about. A serious problem needs to be addressed with some decorum.

    The biggest single difference is that global warming is something that – if it even happens to some appreciable degree – will come on slowly and give us plenty of time to adapt, while an impact will be some object that we will have only a few months to do anything about, and in which case it is very probable that we will have very little left to do but kiss our butts goodbye.

    But, if we are all correct, impacts are also something that has already happened, and with dire consequences – as we interpret the accounts of the past and the physical evidence of that same past.

    But there is nobody here asserting that we should do anything more than begin to collect more evidence and study the matter to see to what degree it is a risk and begin to find out how to mitigate that risk. This takes no great amount of money, as opposed to the proposals of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change. It may take a lot more money, down the road, if the evidence directs us toward comet-deflection schemes. That remains to be seen. We may find that we are wrong, in which case we can let out a sigh of relief and ride off into the sunset.

    But I will say this: I have little confidence in the schemes I’ve seen suggested so far, for intercepting an incoming NEO. As such, I think it is important to experiment somehow, so we can see if the mechanisms are as plausible as we think. I don’t want us to come up against the real thing and have one iffy shot at it. I want to know that what we try has been proven out already.

    In the scheme of things, I think we here are going in the right direction, except it is clear that there are far too few of us. If the leadership at NASA is wrongheaded about this risk, as you say, Ed, then NASA is failing in its purpose. There is SO little space in NASA anymore. Somehow they are involved in the alarmism about global warming, and that makes no sense. NASA should be looking upward and outward and seeing what kind of solar system we live in, and get out of the business of climate change. NASA can do no more important work than to assess what all those NEOs are doing out there. And – more than at present – NASA needs to be finding them ALL and tracking them. As I think we are all aware, the one that bites us will be the one we don’t see.

    Even if (speculating here) all an NEO does is a world-wide EMP blast (not likely at all, from what I know) that takes out the world’s electronics, it would set us back perhaps 50 or 100 years. It doesn’t take a dinosaur killer to do us much more damage in a month than global warming can do in 200 years.

    We do not need to be set back as has been done in the past, by our reckoning. Someone needs to get NASA and shake them out of their complacency.

    Perhaps NASA’s day has come and gone. Putting men (barely) into space seems to have been the limit of what they are capable of. Keeping mankind alive on Earth may be beyond their ken.

    Who else is out there to work on this? The ESA? The Chinese, the Japanese, or the Russians? No one said it had to be Americans. Someone with some capacity to do something about it needs to be working on it. I don’t want my grandchildren to be living in caves and living like the beginning of “2001 A Space Oddysey”.

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