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Study says dinosaurs were already headed for extinction when the asteroid hit

Published Jul 3rd, 2021 10:33AM EDT
Dinosaur Extinction
Image: Kovalenko I/Adobe

The dinosaur extinction event that happened some 66 million years ago has been studied from many angles. We know a lot about the devastating effects of the huge alien rock that might have originated from the edge of our solar system. The asteroid that struck Mexico was as strong as 10 billion atomic bombs. Scientists believe the impact sparked undersea volcanoes. On top of that, the asteroid might have sent enormous amounts of sulfur into the atmosphere, which sent the planet into an ice age too cold for the dinosaurs. And it all happened by mistake. Had the asteroid struck a different region on Earth, the dinosaurs might still be alive.

But a brand new paper indicates that cataclysmic asteroid impact or not, the dinosaur extinction might have been a foregone conclusion.

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A brand new study from Nature Communications suggests that the dinosaurs might have been in decline for some 10 million years before the asteroid hit Mexico, CNN reports.

The new data

The researchers analyzed 1,600 dinosaur fossils from 247 species. They studied the diversity and extinction rates for six dinosaur families.

“We looked at the six most abundant dinosaur families through the whole of the Cretaceous (period), spanning from 150 to 66 million years ago, and found that they were all evolving and expanding and clearly being successful,” Fabien Condamine said in a statement. The scientist, from the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier in France, is the study’s lead author.

“Then, 76 million years ago, they show a sudden downturn. Their rates of extinction rose, and in some cases, the rate of origin of new species dropped off.”

The authors believe that the global climate cooling during the Late Cretaceous may have contributed to the non-avian dinosaurs. The avian dinosaurs were able to survive the asteroid impact and developed into the birds that populate the planet today.

The scientists believe that the cooling of the climate and the loss of certain herbivore species contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaur extinction debates

There have been other theories in the past that attempted to explain dinosaur extinction. Scientists have recently shown that volcanoes weren’t the leading cause of the event. Further research firmly tied the dinosaur extinction to the asteroid impact that formed the 125-mile Chicxulub Crater.

Reacting to the new study, paleontologists unaffiliated with the research cast their doubts about the validity of the data. One said that the dinosaurs were able to adapt to other climate changes and survive them. Another added that the new study might be biased because the authors focused mainly on dinosaur fossils found in North America.

Whether the new findings are accurate or not, researchers will continue to look for more clues.

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Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.