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Dinosaur Oil Crisis

There's some new evidence that a giant oil fire might have had something to do with the dinosaurs' demise. Find out more on today's "Moment of Science."

Oil covered plain

Photo: marinephotobank (flickr)

Some scientists believe that an oil fire caused by a meteor may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs

One theory about how the dinosaurs died is that a giant meteor smashed into the Earth, blocked out the sun, and killed all the plants that formed the bottom of the dinosaurs’ food chain.

But not all scientists agree with that theory.  There’s some new evidence that a giant oil fire might have had something to do with the dinosaurs’ demise.  Scientists still agree that around sixty-five million years ago, a meteor or comet or something was the instigator. But it’s not clear that the impact alone would have been enough to end the reign of the dinosaurs. So one theory is that the explosion started global forest fires. All that fire shot so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the planet heated up like an oven and baked the dinos to death.

The problem is that there isn’t as much charred plant debris as you’d expect if there really were such giant fires.  So what sparked a new theory was the discovery of tiny carbon spheres at dozens of dinosaur dig sites around the world. The spheres are created from burning fossil fuels like oil. So maybe the meteor exploded in the midst of a huge oil field in the Gulf of Mexico. First it would have vaporized the oil, then ignited it in the atmosphere, creating a huge, sky-bound fireball. The combination of fire, soot and global warming may have been enough to kill the dinosaurs.

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