TECH

The Dinosaurs Died A Slow, Cold Death In Almost Complete Darkness

That's a tough way to go...

17/01/2017 11:50 GMT

Just in case we were still working under the falsehood that the dinosaurs went out on a high - in one clean explosion of biblical proportions - the reality was actually far less glamourous. 

Not only did they have to deal with a giant asteroid being launched at them from space, but it seems that they were also subjected to total darkness and sub-zero temperatures for decades.

estt via Getty Images

The new research, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says that the asteroid’s arrival meant the dinosaur population spent it’s final years on earth freezing and without any sunlight. 

Previous theories have long speculated that it was clouds of dust ejected by the giant asteroid’s impact that brought the end days for earth’s scaly inhabitants. 

However, the new study has shifted the focus to look at sulfur-bearing gases that evaporated into the air after the violent collision.

Using reconstructions of tiny sulfuric acid droplets, the researchers were able to see how these dense gases sat in the atmosphere and lingered for decades and were “much more important for the mass extinction” than the shorter-lived dust particles.

These sulfate aerosols then formed a blanket around the earth that stopped the sunlight from reaching land, plunging the world into darkness and pushing the temperature from 27 degrees down to 5 degrees, even in the tropics.

The reptiles, used to living in lush warm environments, were now living in average annual temperatures of below freezing for years on end.

Lead author Julia Brugger said: “It became cold, I mean really cold.”

An additional ‘kill mechanism’ might have been a vigorous mixing of the oceans, caused by the surface cooling without sunlight. 

This cooling means that surface waters become heavier and denser, and sink, pushing warmer deep water to the top. This means that certain algae-blooming nutrients washed up on coastline, which then produced toxic substances and killed anything living on the shores. 

“It is fascinating to see how evolution is partly driven by an accident like an asteroid’s impact – mass extinctions show that life on Earth is vulnerable,” said Brugger.