Big bangs on the earth—or big belches?

New discoveries and new theories put a different spin on impact-extinction links


24 May 2004

A huge structure off of Australia’s northwest coast1 has been identified by researchers as an ancient impact crater, and blamed for a mass extinction in the fossil record.2 Only this time they’re not talking about the dinosaurs dying off 65 million years ago. This particular blow from space is supposed to have happened at the end of the Permian, some 250 million years ago. This is a level in the layers of sedimentary rock at which the fossils of a large numbers of types of marine creatures are found below it, but not above. 

Long-age philosophy is based on interpreting the fossil layers as a tape-recording of vast eons, rejecting the notion of a global Flood. So starting with this framework, it is natural to interpret such a situation in the fossil ‘record’ as a ‘mass dying’ at a particular point in time. 

Accepting the biblical Flood record, on the other hand, these marine creatures (and many others not around today) certainly did die out en masse in the huge hydraulic/volcanic/tectonic cataclysm. The fact that they are not found above a certain sedimentary level would have to do with the physical/ecological realities of the event, not a significant separation in time. Same facts, different story.

Many people are now aware of the ‘impact that killed the dinosaurs’, and of the evidence this alleged culprit left behind, the crater called Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. So some might argue that having two such large ‘smoking gun’ craters correlating with mass dyings is strong support for the long-age framework. 

However, before anyone gets too carried away, it’s worth briefly revisiting the history of the ‘dinosaurs died from an impact’ theory.

  • The idea was proposed to explain a layer enriched with certain minerals which are mostly found in objects from outer space. The layer was generally at the place in the fossil record where the dinosaurs disappeared.

  • Others pointed out that volcanism could explain all the features blamed on an impact, and found evidence of massive volcanism at the same ‘time’—the Deccan traps of India. Such large volcanic outpourings are known as ‘flood basalts’.

  • The Chicxulub crater was found only later, but was regarded as ‘proof’, especially in the public imagination. So-called ‘shocked quartz’ particles, diagnostic of powerful impact, seemed to settle the case. Still, some evolutionary researchers remained sceptical, showing that it was unlikely that the ‘crater’ was from impact and also indicating that it was in the ‘wrong’ place in the record.3 Others argued that the fossils showed (in the long-age framework) that dinosaur remains did not ‘suddenly’ go out of the record at all.

  • Recently, a ‘redating’ of Chicxulub showed that if it was an impact, it indeed happened at the ‘wrong time’ to be blamed for dinosaur extinction.4

So the ‘Bedout crater’, as the Australian discovery is becoming known, may suffer the same fate, and turn out to be either not a crater at all, or else be in the ‘wrong’ spot. Early reports indicate that some scientists ‘remain unconvinced that Bedout is in fact an impact crater’.5 And the geological dates, while close to the alleged ‘great Permian dying’, are ‘not yet exact enough to be considered simultaneous’.6 

Interestingly, just as the dinosaur extinction is roughly at the same ‘level’ (hence time, in the long-age view) as the Deccan volcanism in India, there is a Siberian volcanic outpouring which can be correlated (in that framework) with the Permian extinction. 

Some ‘impact enthusiasts’, reluctant to let the vulcanism hypothesis have all the credit, have suggested that maybe the Chicxulub impact triggered the Deccan outpouring. And maybe the Bedout impact triggered the Siberian flood basalts. This at least gets over the ‘enormous coincidence’ that such huge volcanic outpourings are roughly correlated with impacts. The problems for the idea that these impacts triggered the massive volcanic outpourings are as follows:

  • There is a huge question-mark over whether these are impact craters at all, as discussed.

  • No-one can think of a physical mechanism of how an asteroid impact could cause such incredible melting on the other side of the earth.

  • The correlation is rough indeed, and even their own long-age dating methods suggest that the volcanism started well before the impact in each case.

Giant burps?

A new theory has emerged which tries to make sense of all these ideas for long-agers.7 It assumes that structures such as Bedout and Chicxulub are craters, but not caused by impact from outer space. Instead, they are the result of ‘Verneshot’ events. These are named after the ‘father of science fiction’, Jules Verne, who envisioned people being shot to the moon in a giant cannon. The idea is that deep volcanic/tectonic upheavals in the earth, associated with the formation of the huge flood basalts in each case, elsewhere caused an accumulation of gases which then ‘popped’ or exploded with an incredible force. The energy of the blast would be that of millions of atomic bombs, and be capable of hurling billions of tons of rock into the air. Some of the chunks would be large enough to cause huge craters upon their fall to earth. 

So in this idea, the Verneshot explosion causes the layers of dust enriched in minerals, and would also spray shocked quartz far and wide. The initial ‘shot’, as well as the subsidiary impacts in other parts of the globe, as the larger chunks hit the earth with huge force, would contribute to the climate disruptions blamed for mass extinctions. As would, of course, the flood basalts associated with the ‘super-belch’. 

The idea is still very raw and controversial, but already it illustrates how flexible scientific interpretations can be in accommodating data. One generation is told ‘for certain’ that ‘we know’ that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs, but then it becomes volcanoes, and now—well, let me tell you about this super-belch, Virginia … . 

Proponents of the Verneshot idea will now start searching for evidence in Siberia that will suggest that there really was such a giant ‘shot pipe’ associated with the volcanism.

Of course, regardless of whether this particular hypothesis keeps gathering pace, the facts will, as usual, be shoehorned into the long-age philosophy. But consider the things being discussed: global-scale catastrophism, with deep earth upheavals, huge explosions sending mountainous chunks of rock half-way around the world, outpourings from super-volcanoes, and mass extinction. Leave off the millions of years, and it all sounds somehow familiar to Flood geologists. 

Published: 8 February 2006

References and notes

  1. The alleged crater is at what is known as the Bedout High, and is about 200 km (125 miles) wide. Return to text.
  2. Signs of Crater linked to Mass Extinction Said Found, Science News on <www.sciam.com>, 14 May 2004. Return to text.
  3. Wieland, C., Did a meteor really wipe out the dinosaurs? TJ 12(2):154–158, 1998 . Return to text.
  4. Wieland, C., Dino-impact theory takes a hit. Return to text.
  5. Reference 2. Return to text.
  6. Reference 2. Return to text.
  7. Four days that shook the world, New Scientist, pp. 32–35, 8 May 2004. Return to text.