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Antarctic Fossils Suggest That Mass Extinction Event in Polar Regions as Rapid and Severe as Elsewhere in the World

May 27, 2016 03:16 PM EDT
Typical Cretaceous Marine Environment in Antarctica
A painted reconstruction of typical Cretaceous marine environment in Antarctica, including the paperclip-shaped 'heteromorph' ammonite Diplomoceras.
(Photo : James McKay (

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications revealed that animals living in the Polar Regions suffered from the sudden and deadly effect of the mass extinction event just like elsewhere in the world.

Previously, scientists believe that animals in the Polar Regions are far enough away from the cause of the extinction to be badly affected. They also proposed that organisms living in the poles would have been more resilient to global climatic changes associated with an asteroid impact due to their high adaptability in the environment that were always strongly seasonal.

However, a new study involving a six-year process of identifying more than 6,000 marine fossils ranging in age from 69- to 65-million-years-old suggests otherwise.

"Our research essentially shows that one day everything was fine -- the Antarctic had a thriving and diverse marine community -- and the next, it wasn't. Clearly, a very sudden and catastrophic event had occurred on Earth," said James Witts, a PhD student in the University of Leed's School of Earth and Environment and lead author of the study, in a press release.

For their study, researchers grouped over 6,000 marine fossils from Antarctica by their age. By doing so, researchers noticed a dramatic 65 to 70 percent reduction in the number of species living in Antarctica. Surprisingly, the reduction occurred exactly at the same time when the dinosaurs and many other groups of organisms worldwide became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

These suggests that the primary cause of the mass extinction event was the after-effects of a huge asteroid impact, as opposed the previous claims that natural changes to the climate and severe volcanism caused a gradual decline to these ancient organisms.

"These Antarctic rocks contain a truly exceptional assemblage of fossils that have yielded new and surprising information about the evolution of life 66 million years ago. Even the animals that lived at the ends of the Earth close to the South Pole were not safe from the devastating effects of the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period," explained Professor Jane Francis from the British Antarctic Survey and co-author of the study in a statement.

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