Lesson of the Day: ‘The Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Acidified the Ocean in a Flash’

Lesson of the Day: ‘The Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Acidified the Ocean in a Flash’

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Featured Article: “The Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Acidified the Ocean in a Flash

In this lesson you will learn about a scientific study that attempts to support the hypothesis that the asteroid that struck Earth 66 million years ago not only wiped out dinosaurs on land, but it also destroyed marine life. Then, you will be able to use a hypothesis from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to think about how this discovery could connect to climate change in 2019.

What do you know about how dinosaurs became extinct? If you are in a classroom, make a list with some of your peers of everything you know or think you know, and then share it with the rest of the class. Do you all know more collectively? Are there things you disagree about?

Then, make a list of questions you still have about the topic.

Someone in your class may have mentioned the Chicxulub asteroid, which struck Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Watch this video from the Science Channel that brings to life the asteroid striking earth and the aftermath.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Why is the new research, published by the National Academy of Sciences, significant? What does Noah Planavsky, a biogeochemist at Yale, mean by saying it was “flash acidification”?

2. What did Michael Henehan, a geochemist, discover when he was in the cave system at Geulhemmerberg? What did he do when he returned to his lab, and what did he discover?

3. How were Dr. Henehan and Dr. Planavsky able to conclude that “the oceans became acidic practically overnight”?

4. How does the study give evidence of the asteroid being the cause of marine mass extinction rather than the volcanic activity that was happening around the same time in what is now India?

5. How do reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change connect the study’s findings to the world today?

The final point made in the article relates the study’s findings to climate change:

According to reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human emissions of carbon dioxide are not only warming the planet, but also acidifying the oceans. And that modern acidification, Dr. Planavsky says, is happening at a rate and scale comparable to the asteroid-triggered acidification. A similar result, he said, “is on the extreme end of what we could get in the next 100 years.”

Now, see if you can make this information interesting and accessible to different audiences. In small groups, or individually, choose an audience from the list below and think of how you would present the information to them:

  • If you had to explain the findings and this contemporary connection to a third grader, what language and props might you use?

  • How about if you were going to on Twitter? Do you think you could explain the effects of the Chicxulub asteroid in 280 characters?

  • Do you think you could use an illustration, chart or graph to explain the findings in a science fair setting?

If you’re interested in learning more about the Chicxulub asteroid, check out these Times articles that feature other related research that has been done in the past year:

A New Timeline of the Day the Dinosaurs Began to Die Out

Fossil Site Reveals Day That Meteor Hit Earth and, Maybe, Wiped Out Dinosaurs