A hadrosaur Skeleton, Field Museum (Credit: Lisa Andres)
by Paul Rodgers.
Dinosaurs would be walking the Earth today if it weren’t for a “colossal” piece of bad luck.
Had the asteroid that brought their reign to an end struck at “a more convenient time” they could well have survived the cataclysm, according to new research.
And that in turn would mean no humans.
“If dinosaurs didn’t go extinct, then mammals would have never had their opportunity to blossom.
So if it wasn’t for that asteroid, then humans probably wouldn’t be here. It’s as simple as that,” said Dr Stephen Brusatte, a palaeontologist at Edinburgh University’s school of geosciences.
“Not only did a giant asteroid strike, but it happened at the worst possible time, when their ecosystems were vulnerable,” said Dr Brusatte, a co-discoverer of the Pinnochio rex tyrannosaur (Qianzhousaurus sinensis) announced in May.
“It was a perfect storm of events, when dinosaurs were at their most vulnerable.”
A triceratops at the American Museum of Natural History (Credit: Wikipedia)
The arrival of the Chicxulub bolide (comet or giant meteorite) 66 million years ago, in what is now Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, left a crater 20km deep and 180km in diameter and caused a global catastrophe including firestorms, tsunamis, and earthquakes.
The 10km wide rock released enough dust, ash, and aerosols into the air to create a global “impact winter” that lasted for a decade.
The Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (formerly known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary) is thought to have killed three quarters of the earth’s species.
At particular risk were large creatures – the dinosaurs – that depended on equally large food intake.
Only those dinosaurs that could fly survived, eventually evolving into today’s birds.
For the first time since the accident in 1976, workers at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington are planning to clean out the room where chemicals exploded in Harold McCluskey’s face, showering him with radiation 500 times the occupational limit and embedding radioactive americium in his skull, turning him into the Atomic Man.
McCluskey, improbably, survived the incident. (He later said, “Of nine doctors, four thought I had a 50-50 chance and the rest just shook their heads.”) The massive dose of radiation left him with health problems, and decades later, his body still set off Geiger counters.
But the most painful legacy of the explosion was probably the isolation, both physical and social, as other humans shied away from his radioactive body.
When the accident happened on August 30, 1976, McCluskey had just returned to his job as a technician after a five-month strike had shut down the Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford.
The material he was working with had become unstable after the long hiatus and so right after he added nitric acid as instructed, it exploded, blowing out the glove box that was supposed to contain it.
His body—now covered in blood and shards of metal and glass—was taken to the decontamination center where he stayed in an isolation of concrete and steel.
Nobody was allowed near him out of fear for the radiation he still emitted.
“Blinded, his hearing damaged by the explosion, McCluskey spent the next three weeks at the unit cut off from personal contact,” described a later profile in People. “Monitored, like an alien, by nurses wearing respirators and protective clothing, he could neither see nor clearly understand the attendants who approached.”
The nurses scrubbed and shaved him every day—the bath towels and bathwater now part of Hanford’s radioactive waste.
He endured 600 shots of zinc DTPA, a drug that binds to radioactive metals.
Image: Grant Avenue after the earthquake in San Francisco.
by Chris Frantz
At 5:12 a.m. on 18 April, 1906, the people of San Francisco were awakened by an earthquake that would devastate the city.
The main tremor, having a 7.7–7.9 magnitude, lasted about one minute and was the result of the rupturing of the northernmost 296 miles of the 800-mile San Andreas fault.
But when calculating destruction, the earthquake took second place to the great fire that followed.
The fire, lasting four days, most likely started with broken gas lines (and, in some cases, was helped along by people hoping to collect insurance for their property—they were covered for fire, but not earthquake).
With water mains broken, fighting the fires was almost impossible, and about 500 city blocks were destroyed.
The damages were estimated at about $400,000,000 in 1906 dollars, which would translate to about $8.2 billion today.
Uncertain Death Toll
In 1906 San Francisco was the ninth largest U.S. city with a population of 400,000, and over 225,000 were left homeless by the disaster. The death toll is uncertain.
City officials estimated the casualties at 700 but more modern calculations say about 3,000 lost their lives.
The lowballing city figures may have been a public relations ploy to downplay the disaster with an eye on rebuilding the city.
On 20 April, the U.S.S. Chicago rescued 20,000 victims, one of the largest sea evacuations in history, rivalling Dunkirk in World War II.
Martial law was not declared, but some 500 looters were shot by police and the military.
A dust storm approaches Stratford, Texas, in 1935. Photo credit: George E. Marsh
The early European explorers thought the Great Plains was unsuitable for agriculture. The land is semi-arid and is prone to extended drought, alternating with periods of unusual wetness.
But the federal government was eager to see the land settled and cultivated. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, a series of federal land acts were passed granting settlers hundreds of acres of land. These acts led to a massive influx of new and inexperienced farmers across the Great Plains.
A stretch of unusually wet weather in the beginning of the 20th century confirmed the belief that the Plains could be tamed after all, leading to increased settlement and cultivation.
Farmers ploughed through the land eliminating the native grasses that held the fine soil in place. When crops began to fail with the onset of drought in 1930, the bare soil became exposed to the wind, and it began to blow away in massive dust storms that blackened the sky.
These choking billows of dust, named “black blizzards”, travelled across the country, reaching as far as the East Coast and striking such cities as New York City and Washington, D.C.
“The impact is like a shovelful of fine sand flung against the face,” Avis D. Carlson wrote in a New Republic article. “People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk… We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions. It is becoming Real.”
The term “dust bowl” was coined by Edward Stanley, Kansas City news editor of the Associated Press. Originally it referred to the geographical area affected by the dust, but today the entire event is referred to as the Dust Bowl.
After the winds passed and the dust settled, President Franklin Roosevelt initiated a huge project to plant hundreds of millions of trees across the Great Plains to create a giant windbreak. Known as a shelterbelt, it consisted of 220 million trees stretching in a 100-mile wide zone from Canada to northern Texas, to protect the land from wind erosion.
On May 1, 1915, the ship departed New York City bound for Liverpool. Unknown to her passengers but probably no secret to the Germans, almost all her hidden cargo consisted of munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort.
As the fastest ship afloat, the luxurious liner felt secure in the belief she could easily outdistance any submarine. Nonetheless, the menace of submarine attack reduced her passenger list to only half her capacity.
On May 7, the ship neared the coast of Ireland. At 2:10 in the afternoon a torpedo fired by the German submarine U 20 slammed into her side. A mysterious second explosion ripped the liner apart. Chaos reigned.
The ship listed so badly and quickly that lifeboats crashed into passengers crowded on deck, or dumped their loads into the water. Most passengers never had a chance. Within 18 minutes the giant ship slipped beneath the sea. One thousand one hundred nineteen of the 1,924 aboard died. The dead included 114 Americans.
Walter Schwieger was captain of the U-Boat that sank the Lusitania. He watched through his periscope as the torpedo exploded and noted the result in his log, “The ship stops immediately and heals over to starboard quickly, immersing simultaneously at the bow.
It appears as if the ship were going to capsize very shortly. Great confusion is rife on board; the boats are made ready and some of them lowered into the water. In connection therewith great panic must have reigned; some boats, full to capacity are rushed from above, touch the water with either stem or stern first and founder immediately.”
In the ship’s nursery Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the world’s richest men, and playwright Carl Frohman tied life jackets to wicker “Moses baskets” holding infants in an attempt to save them from going down with the ship.
The rising water carried the baskets off the ship but none survived the turbulence created as the ship sank to the bottom. The sea also claimed Vanderbilt and Frohman.
The sinking enraged American public opinion. The political fallout was immediate. President Wilson protested strongly to the Germans. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a pacifist, resigned.
In September, the Germans announced that passenger ships would be sunk only with prior warning and appropriate safeguards for passengers. However, the seeds of American animosity towards Germany were sown.