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No. 128: MAR-APR 2000

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A Lurch of Death

Two geophysicists, W. Sager and A. Koppers, have plotted 27 ancient pole positions dated between 120 and 30 million years ago. Using rock samples brought up from submerged Pacific sea-mounts, they find that the earth's magnetic poles shifted 15-20-deg about 84 million years ago. The north magnetic pole was not slowly drifting, it was lurching. It took just a couple million years to shift 700 miles or more; that's more than ten times the rate of continental drift. The earth from afar must have seemed to be a disturbed top---on a geological time scale, of course!

What could have perturbed the earth? One suggestion blames a sudden shifting of the planet's mass distribution, some sort of subterranean indigestion, like a subducted ocean plate suddenly plunging through into the lower mantle.

(Kerr, Richard A.; "Did the Dinosaurs Live on a Topsy-Turvy Earth?" Science, 287:406, 2000.)

The biological consequences of such a sudden tilting could have been severe.

The event -- known as rapid true polar wander -- may have been accompanied by worldwide volcanic upheavals and reorganization of tectonic plates that would have played havoc with anything living in the Late Cretaceous period, 65 million to 99 million years ago.

Although the notion that an asteroid was the immediate cause of dinosaur extinction about 65 million years ago has won wide acceptance, many paleontologists have argued that volcanic activity may have played a role in changing the climate and sending populations of the giant creatures into decline.

(Bowman, Lee; "Scientist's Say Earth's Magnetic Field Shifted Rapidly in Time of Dinosaurs," Dallas Morning News, January 21, 2000. Cr. Phelps)

Comment. Coincidentally (honest!), we are offering with this mailing a reprint of C.H. Hapgood's The Path of the Pole.

From Science Frontiers #128, MAR-APR 2000. � 1997 William R. Corliss

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