This course will begin by setting the stage: what was the world like in the latest Cretaceous period, when T. rex and Triceratops ruled? Then, suddenly, the dinosaurs are gone—a mystery that has inspired and motivated paleontologists for well over a century. Did an asteroid impact really lead to the dinosaurs’ demise? When this idea was presented by the Alvarez team in 1980, it shook the scientific establishment. But some scientists believe, instead, that massive volcanic eruptions were the culprit. The asteroid vs. volcano theories have long been debated, but this class will present new evidence from the fossil record based on a study by paleontologist Steve Brusatte’s research team. He’ll make the argument that the asteroid really did cause the extinction, and explain how its short term (tsunamis, wildfires, earthquakes), mid-term (decade-long nuclear winter), and longer-term effects (2000 years of global warming) killed the dinosaurs, but spared the mammals, which led to us.
- Did dinosaurs go extinct suddenly or gradually?
- Did a single event cause the dinosaur extinction, or was it a confluence of multiple causes?
- How might an asteroid impact have caused species to go extinct via short, medium, and long-term consequences?
- How might the modern world be different if the asteroid never hit at the end of the Cretaceous period?