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

Joanne Ballard: Amazing pics from field work in European coversands


In response to an inquiry from the Tusk, Joanne Ballard of the University of Tennessee very graciously provided our blog the unpublished photos, field notes and narrative below from her recent trip to Netherlands. She personally inspects and samples the Usselo Boundary, or black mat of Europe. Absolutely fascinating.

Download the PDF file .



Dear George,

Here is some background on the research of the Usselo horizon sites and narrative for the slides.

I am currently a 4th year PhD student in the Geography Department at the University of Tennessee. I research major paleoenvironmental change since the last ice age, by analyzing lake sediment cores. The proxies I use are pollen, charcoal, stable C and N isotopes, X-ray fluorescence, X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy, light microscopy, and thin sections.

Usselo Horizons in the Netherlands and Belgium typically date to the onset of the Younger Dryas (YD), but in some locations appear to be end-YD. In Germany, this layer is referred to at the Finow soil.
It is a dark, charcoal-rich layer suspended in the coversands. Above is yellow quartz sand, and directly below the dark layer, the sand appears bleached.

While I was a M.S. student at the University of Cincinnati, Han Kloosterman sent me some samples from the Ossendrecht (Netherlands) Usselo horizon. I wet-sieved the sample from the charcoal-rich horizon to concentrate the quartz grains for thin section analysis. The images of this thin section show that all grains are internally fractured, and there are parallel “decorated” lines that may or may not be shock lamellae. There is a quartz grain that appears to have a track with an offset in it that stops in the center of that grain and is radially fractured (Slides 8,9). This suggests to me that there was a rapid shift from a semi-molten state (for a microimpacting grain to penetrate the quartz grain in such a way) followed by fast cooling resulting in the fractures radiating out from the center. The black sphere in the image of the grain with the track in it, is probably an air bubble. The ‘Ossendrecht Medallion’ (Slides 11,12)is a peculiar structure that looks suggestive of a molten quartz grain that was flattened and shock lines were recorded, but I am not an impact physicist. Analyses of the Ossendrecht loose grains using high magnification light microscopy revealed fused grains of quartz. SEM images were also obtained and you can see the comparison of the one grain with Bevan French’s image.

One of the objections from scientists some years ago in discussion about these features, was that they could be detrital material washed in or blown in from some far distant area that had an ET impact.
Therefore, in 2011, I went to the Netherlands and collaborated with several scientists there to collect samples from three different locations, two in the Netherlands (Laarder Wasmeren and Lutterzand) and one in Belgium (Lommel). Colleagues assisting on this trip were Andre Bijkerk; Han Kloosterman; Bas van Geel and Jan Sevink of the Universiteit Amsterdam; and Ferdi Geerts, Conservator at the Museum De Kolonie, Lommel. I took samples from several depths at each site in order to compare the grains at each level. If the grains in the dark layer are all internally fractured at all sites, and levels above and below it are not, it supports the hypothesis that it is an event horizon. I also collected samples from a documented, stand-killing, severe forest fire.

In reviewing these samples under high magnification light microscopy, I found melt glass, fused grains, quartz “needles”, charcoal, wood fragments, and well-rounded black micrograins. These have not yet been analyzed.

At Lommel, we found a section of the Usselo horizon that actually had fine laminations. This set of laminae were not level but arcuate, so not likely to have been a pond or lake depositional setting. These laminae are in situ, and not detrital. I interpret these laminae as algal in nature. Why are these fine algal layers here and nowhere else in the stratigraphic column? My hypothesis is that the surface of the sand was showered by nitric acid rain on a cyclical basis. Each lamina represents one nitric acid rain shower. Nitric acid rain occurs following an extraterrestrial event (Prinn and Fegley 1987, Toon et al. 1997, Kolesnikov and Kolesnikova 2010) and has been documented for the Tunguska event of 1908 (Kolesnikov et al. 1998). The ET shock wave dissociates the N2 in the atmosphere, and the ozone in the stratosphere, and nitrate forms. This rains out over an estimated months to years (Prinn and Fegley 1987).

I have not been able to do a comparative analysis of the different levels at the four sites using thin sections yet, as I have not been able to secure funding to cover the cost of thin sections and radiocarbon dates.

If anyone discusses any of this unpublished material, please cite me.

Joanne Ballard
[email protected]
[email protected]

Slide 1 View of the laminated Usselo Horizon at Lommel Belgium, closeup of the laminations, and a grain from within the layers.

Slide 2 Examples of what the Usselo horizon is– a dark charcoal rich layer in the coversands, underlain by bleached-looking sand, and overlain by yellow sand. Important early papers on the Usselo Horizon are Van Geel et al. (1979) Alex Andronikov, of the Lunar and Planetary Science
Institute, Arizona also visited sites in the Netherlands in 2011, and was reported on the Cosmic Tusk.
Slide 3 More views of Usselo horizons from Kaiser et al. 2009.
Slide 4 Distrubution of coversands vs. river-deposited sands
The four sampling sites are marked with red stars.
Slides 5-8 show the internal fractures in quartz grains from t he
Usselo layer at Ossendrecht, the Netherlands
Slide 8 A peculiar quartz grain with a track or channel in it.
Slide 9 Close up of that track, clearly showing the groove from
exterior to interior of grain, and the central radial
fracture pattern as if from a projectile
Very rapid quenching of molten material may have occurred?
Slide 10 More strange features from the Ossendrecht Usselo thin
Slides 11-12 The “Ossendrecht Medallion”, arcuate lines enclosed in
quartz grains suggest shocking. Grain is fractured at foci
of arcuate lines. This also suggests phase changes of
matter from fluid to solid very rapidly
Slides 12-14 Discussion of traditional markers of an extraterrestrial
event, referencing French and Koeberl 2010. The YDB impact
does contain breccia when you consider the internal
fracturing of the quartz grains. Shatter cones would not
be produced in a sandy area; they require bedrock. There
is possible shocked quartz here, but I need a collaborator
to help assess this aspect of the grains. There is melt
glass, without a doubt.
Slide 17 Comparison of a shocked grain under SEM (French and Koeberl
2010) with a grain from Ossendrecht. May or may not be
the same process.
Slide 18 Comparison of decorated PDFs of French and Koeberl (2010)
and Ossendrecht. PDF = planar deformation feature
Slide 19 Comparison of Ballen Quartz (French and Koeberl 2010)
and arcuate fractures in quartz grains from Ossendrecht, as
seen in thin section.
Slides 20-22 The Usselo section at Laarder Wasmeren site, near
Amsterdam, thanks to Jan Sevink and Bas van Geel.
Slide 23 Lutterzand, near the Dinkel River on the east side of the
Netherlands. This Usselo section was very peaty.
Slide 24 Microscope images of grains from Lutterzand. Fused quartz.
Slides 25-26 There are many of these “quartz needles” at all three
sites. Some appear to be quartz filaments but others that
are tapered on the ends, look like sponge spicules.
Further investigation is needed.
Slide 27 A remarkably fresh looking fragment of wood was observed
under the microscope. It should appear weathered after
all these years. One reason it might retain its fresh
look is by being coated by a layer of quartz. This is not
unreasonable given the fused grains and melt glass in these
Slide 28 Lommel, Belgium.
Slide 29 Microscope image of more elongated quartz needles.
Slide 30 The curved laminae, quartz-rich and probably carbon and
nitrogen rich from the brown organic material that is
likely consecutive algal mats from successive nitric acid
rain showers.
Slide 31 From the bleached layer below the laminae (Lommel), melt
glass with a black grain fused to it.
Slide 32-34 Self explanatory
Slide 35 SEM of one of the grains from the brown organic laminae.
You can see clearly that the dark material is adhered to
the surface of the quartz grain.
Slide 36 Summary of Hypotheses that link the three sites.
Slides 37-38 Many researchers refer to the Usselo horizon as a soil,
which forms slowly over thousands of years. I compare
images of the Usselo horizon with a podzol and show clearly
that they are not the same.
Slide 39 Podzol distribution map
Slide 40 When nitric acid rain occurs, it is damaging to vegetation,
but also has a fertilization effect in aquatic
environments, with massive algal and diatom blooms
occurring. Nitric acid rain has been well studied in
recent times in association with the Industrial Age. Since
1850 pollution from factories has acidified precipitation
with sulfates and nitrates. Diatomists were able to show
the link between onset of factory pollution and
acidification of landscapes and aquatic environments. Some
diatoms prefer more alkaline environments, and others prefer more acidic. By tracking changes in the diatom
communities, they were able to show this connection.
Diatoms, then can be used to reveal nitric acid rain peaks
at the YDB. Acidification can be detected in the Greenland
ice cores using ECM (Electrical Conductivity)
Slide 41 Future work, research questions.
Slide 42-47 Additional images of the quartz needles
Slide 48 I visited a modern forest fire to collect samples for
comparison to paleofire sites.
Slide 49 Digital Elevation Map of the Netherlands showing the four
French, B. and Koeberl, C., 2010. The Convincing Identification of Terrestrial Meteorite Impact Structures: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why. Earth Science Reviews 98 (1–2):123–170.
Kaiser, K.; Hilgers, A.; Schlaak, N.; Jankowski, M.; Kühn, P.; Bussemer, S.; Przegiętka, A.,
2009 Palaeopedological Marker Horizons in Northern Central Europe Characteristics of Late Glacial Usselo and Finow Soils. Boreas 38 (3): 591-609.
Kolesnikov, E.M.; Kolesnikova, N.V.; and Boettger, T., 1998. Isotopic anomaly in peat nitrogen is a probable trace of acid rain caused by 1908 Tunguska bolide. Planetary Space Science 46 (2/3):163–167.
Kolesnikov, E.M. and Kolesnikova, N.V., 2010. Traces of Cometary Material in the Area
of the Tunguska Impact (1908). Solar System Research 44 (2): 110–121.
Stapert, D. and Veenstra, H.J., 1988. The Section at Usselo; Brief Description, Grain-Size Distributions, and some Remarks on the Archaeology. Paleohistoria 30: 1-28.
Van Geel, B.; Coope, G.R., and Van der Hammen, T. B. 1989. Palaeoecology and Stratigraphy of the Lateglacial Type Section at Usselo (The Netherlands). Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 60: 25–129.

12 Responses

  1. Howdy all –

    One of the things I play with is newSpace, commercial manned spaceflight. Ran across this correspondence about another gentleman who believes that we suffer many more impacts over time than is normally realized. While this is not specifically YD-centric, it is related. Thought the cross post would be of some interest.

    George – not intended to spam your site, so delete the comment if you view it as such. Cheers –



    John Burgener is a colleague of mine that some of you may know from Space Access Society meetings. He has entered a National Geographic online competition to win a sponsored expedition to Namibia to try to prove his theory that comet and asteroid impacts happen much more frequently than the current estimates. He believes that a large lake in Namibia is an impact crater and numerous small depressions surrounding this lake are secondary debris impacts. He wants to lead an expedition to perform a magnetic survey of the secondary impact sites to tie the crater lake to a massive iron meteorite from Namibia dated as 80,000 years old.

    Here is the link to the National Geographic site where the project Pitch Video is located.


    The voting period for the selected finalist projects is September 16-29. Until then, You can increase his site visit traffic to help his project make the final Top Ten list and ask him questions about his theories on impact sites.



  2. Hi All,
    I am reconsidering the “quartz needles” interpretation.
    Sponge spicules are tapered on both ends may be. The quartz needles are within
    the size range for sponge spicules. Some of these may be sponge spicules.

    There are also ribbon-like and needle-like melt structures, but these do not have tapered ends.

    There are many occurrences of freshwater sponges in late glacial lakes
    in eastern North America. Some examples are Cupola Pond, MO (Jiang 1990); Swift Lake MI (Ballard unpublished); Jackson Pond, KY (Wilkins et al. 1991); Pigeon Marsh, GA (Watts 1975); Anderson Pond, TN…

    This is a work in progress,

    Have a great day,
    Joanne 🙂
    Joanne Ballard

  3. Joanne –

    Among the several things that impressed me was the Ossendrecht Medallion.


    I see two different sorts of arcs that seem to be shocked. The darker two that are 180° opposed are one set of arcs that are shocked in appearance. The others are the much lighter pattern of arcs in the center that look like waves in a pond, centered on the one impact point (if that’s what it is).

    I would also suggest that the other dark arc seems that it might be interpreted as an antipodal shock feature.

    Looking at these, I have in the back of my head, “What are Pinter et al going to pick on here?” Personally, I think they might be over their heads a bit. They seem to slip a bit on technical issues.

    In my past work as a mechanical design engineer, I’ve looked at metal failures under magnification, so I have at least a tiny bit of understanding of what I see in these images.

    The close (and almost concentric) arcs in the center were the first things my eyes went to. And they certainly are centered on the impact point, like waves on a pond from a stone tossed in – but in a far different medium. I am not having any great luck imagining what condition the grain was in at the moment of impact, but I THINK it was solid and crystalline.

    * * *
    As to the microimpactor in the OTHER quartz grain, the one with the passage, that makes me think of a musket ball. Interesting that the impact momentum was enough to penetrate, but not enough to shatter the grain. I have to wonder if the grain was free to move at the moment of impact.

  4. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for reviewing the slides and sharing your thoughts on these microfeatures.
    Joanne 🙂

  5. Steve, Jo Anne; I just read your comments about the quartz grains that were penetrated by micro impacts. My first impression is theat it looks like a bullet shot into ballistic gel. Could those quartz grains have been semi melted to the point the micro impactites were able to penetrate and not shatter the grains?

  6. Hi Jim,

    The grain is fractured in the middle. I interpret a semi-solid phase on the exterior of the quartz grain while the inside was still solid.
    I am not sure how I can test this, since I am not set up to do shockwave experiments.
    I want to get another thin section made from this sample to replicate these features.


  7. Joanne; If you are able to heat quartz till it is softening you might be able to use the HVGR that Dr Shultz used to do ice sheet impact simulations. ( Catastrophy of comets–Patterned peats) I’m not sure how small a particle can be accelerated but it mght be a place to look. Another out there idea: Could an atomic accelerator be capable of accelereating a particle as large as a micro impactor into a quartz target? Just thinking.

  8. These stratigraphic-chemical unconformities are identical to an effect, found where hydrological seepage is restricted by aeolian transport over finely-sorted glacial outwash ( a dynamic process that persists to this day) where argillaceous humic lenses directly overlying loess and fine, sorted sediment at localized depressions on formerly periglacial morainal landscapes are targeted by +CG lightning. This is very common in SE Michigan and other formerly glaciated landscapes near active drainages. The generally E-W watershed confluence regime and the preponderant NNE aspect of the coastline periodically and recurrently induces increases in lightning discharge intensity when climate is unstable. One will see this pattern by performing a simple geographic analysis of current lightning ground strike locations. It is no coincidence that the Lommel region receives among the greatest CG strike density in the entire region, if not lowland Europe in general.

  9. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here:



    If the identical spherules, carbon allotropes, and shocked quartz are to be ubiquitously found in fulguritized sediments, how would you feel? Could you accept this? What if the YD impact team have been blinding themselves to this process – from where the strongest set of counter-examples emerges? It is true that shocked quartz is found in fulgurites, as well as concentrations of heavy metals, exogenic spherules, and high-temperature intermetallic alloys. The YD team has ignored the literature related to lightning and its extreme effects on materials systematically, which I find unacceptable purely from a methodological standpoint. Either these researchers are not performing adequate background research, or they are dishonest. Wouldn’t the inconsistencies in the YD output, and the nature of criticism by falsifying scientists, who you consider rivals, make more sense? An appeal to novelty as an explanation for problematic features of a generalizing hypothesis that relies on induction, or worse- retroduction initializing by spurious quasi-Bayesian probability intuition – is not scientific. and we might have to face that YD impact is a retrocausal misinterpretation of the sequence of deposition. It is no wonder that YD proxy accumulations seem to follow the early development of the black mat layers by hundreds of years. Before a valid experimental protocol can be accepted from the YD team, the plethora of logical fallacies that seem to guide research into YD impact – not shared or uncritically-accepted universally by all involved who have worked supportively on aspects of the hypothesis-series – must be critically addressed and reflexively eliminated.

  10. I suppose that this comment of Thaddeus G is supposed to make us quiver and wilt under the glare of his monumental superiority.

    After all, he sounds so authoritative. He MUST be correct, yes?


    He shows his laziness and his OWN dishonesty, AND IT WAS SO EASY TO REBUT.

    TG asserts: “The YD team has ignored the literature related to lightning and its extreme effects on materials systematically, which I find unacceptable purely from a methodological standpoint.”

    This is not only a wrong character assassination, but a categorically and AMAZINGLY wrong assertion with no support in fact.


    That link is the Supplemental material to Bunch et al 2012 “Very High-Temperature Impact Melt Products as
    Evidence for Cosmic Airbursts and Impacts 12,900 years ago”

    That Supplementary material includes an entire SECTION on fulgurites and their consideration – and rejection. The section is – amazingly – entitled “FULGURITES”.

    In addition to their own analysis, the Bunch et al team rely on Sheffer et al 2006:

    “Sheffer AA, Dyar MD, Sklute EC (2006) Lightning strike glasses as
    an analog for impact glasses: 57Fe Mössbauer Spectroscopy of
    Fulgurites. 37th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference,
    March 13-17, 2006, League City, Texas, abstract no.2009.”

    One would expect that the specificity of that source with THAT title addresses exactly the things TG is CLAIMING FALSELY was not done by the YDIH team.

    But, alas, the pot doth find its patina blacker than the kettle’s.

    Bunch discusses specifically and in detail the exact thing TG saserts that the YD folks have not done. Bunch addresses at length the two types of fulgurites – subsurface and exogenic – and describes thoroughly what those are and why they are rejected as possible sources of impact materials at the YD sites.

    Thus, this entire UNINFORMED attack on the YD Team is BUSTED and seen for the utter dishonesty that it is. (WTF is this person thinking, coming up with such an easily refuted batch of NOTHING?)

    Once again, the anti-YDIH cause is shown to be too lazy to do anything but kibitz in a manner that shows they have not even READ the materials that they are attacking and – SUPPOSEDLY – refuting.

    The thing is, this was SO EASY TO FIND ONLINE WITH A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH. (“fulgerite blackwater draw” – heck, I even misspelled “fulgurite” and it STILL found this as the fourth Google Search “hit”.)

    Thus, one more “PROOF” that the YDIH team did bad science is cut off at the knees, because the attack dogs/kibitzers not only do not do their OWN science but can’t even read.

    This isn’t even difficult to defend. One would think that they could come up with better attack dogs than this.

    TG: “Wouldn’t the inconsistencies in the YD output, and the nature of criticism by falsifying scientists, who you consider rivals, make more sense?”

    That might be a proper question IF THE “RIVALS” actually did their own science instead of simply kibitzing and trying to pick holes in the YDIH forensics – AND CONTINUALLY FAILING, even in that.

    TG, I am impressed by your scientific vocabulary, but vocabulary doesn’t work in HARD SCIENCE. FACTS DO. DATA DOES. FIELD WORK AND EMPIRICAL LAB RESULTS DO.

    TG: “Before a valid experimental protocol can be accepted from the YD team, the plethora of logical fallacies that seem to guide research into YD impact – not shared or uncritically-accepted universally by all involved who have worked supportively on aspects of the hypothesis-series – must be critically addressed and reflexively eliminated.”

    This is such a biased and uninformed passage that it doesn’t require a refutation, BECAUSE IT SAYS NOTHING OF SUBSTANCE.

    Whether fallacious logic or not, the YDIH effort is not dependent on logical arguments. Such pedantic pap is for the soft sciences and historians. The YDIH papers consistently and thoroughly depend – as anyone who reads the Supplemental materials on the several papers can discover simply by reading – on one FACT after another, after another. Arguments don’t win in hard science – Lab results DO.

    Such appeals to reason over facts – what in the WORLD do the “critics” think they are doing, and WHO do they think they are fooling? Empirical facts are not arguments. They are what they are. FACTS

    The YDIH team has the lab results. Where are the opponents’ lab results?

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