Magazine article USA TODAY

Collision with Earth Would Be Devastating

Magazine article USA TODAY

Collision with Earth Would Be Devastating

Article excerpt

ASTEROIDS

If a huge asteroid were to hit the Earth, the catastrophic destruction it causes--and even the "impact winter" that follows--might only be a prelude to a different, but very deadly, phase that starts later on. In an analysis of the secondary ecological repercussions, scientists from Oregon State University, Corvallis, and the British Antarctic Survey have outlined some of the residual effects of ozone depletion, acid rain, and increased levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation.

The findings are frightening. As a number of popular movies have illustrated in recent years, a big asteroid or comet impact would produce enormous devastation, huge tidal waves, and a global dust cloud that would block the sun and choke the planet in icy, winter-like conditions for months. According to Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, "Scientists have pretty well documented the immediate destruction of an asteroid impact and even the impact winter which its dust cloud would create. But our study suggests that's just the beginning of the ecological disaster, not the end of it."

The immediate results would be widespread death of plants and the large terrestrial animals--including humans--that most directly depend on those plants for food. The atmosphere would become loaded with nitric oxide, causing massive amounts of acid rain. As they become acidified, the lakes and rivers would have reduced amounts of dissolved organic carbons, which would allow much greater penetration of ultraviolet light. …

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