Terminated Dinosaur Era
A. The age of dinosaurs, which ended with the cataclysmic bang of a meteor impact 65 million years ago, may also have begun with one. Researchers found recently the first direct, though tentative, geological evidence of a meteor impact 200 million years ago, coinciding with a mass extinction that eliminated half of the major groups of life and opened the evolutionary1 door for what was then a relatively small group of animals: dinosaurs.
B. The cause and timing of the ascent of dinosaurs has have been much debated. It has been impossible to draw any specific conclusions because the transition between the origin of dinosaurs and their ascent to dominance has not been sampled in detail. “There is a geochemical signature of something important happening, probably an asteroid impact, just before the time in which familiar dinosaur-dominated communities appear,” said Dr. Paul E. Olsen, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.
C. Olsen and his colleagues studied vertebrate fossils from 80 sites in four different ancient rift basins, part of a chain of rifts that formed as North America began to split apart from the supercontinent that existed 230-190 million years ago. In the layer of rock corresponding to the extinction, the scientists found elevated amounts of the rare element iridium. A precious metal belonging to the platinum group of elements, iridium is more abundant in meteorites than in rocks.
D. On Earth, A similar spike of iridium in 65 million- year-old rocks gave rise in the 1970s to the theory that a meteor caused the demise of the dinosaurs. That theory remained controversial for years until it was corroborated by other evidence and the impact site was found off the Yucatan Peninsula. Scientists will need to examine the new iridium anomaly similarly. The levels are only about one-tenth as high as those found at the later extinction. That could mean that the meteor was smaller or contained less iridium or that a meteor was not involved—iridium can also come from the Earth’s interior, belched out by volcanic eruptions. Dr. Michael J. Benton, a professor of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Bristol in England, described the data as “the first reasonably convincing evidence of an iridium spike”.
E. The scientists found more evidence of rapid extinction in a database of 10,000 fossilized footprints in former lake basins from Virginia to Nova Scotia. Although individual species cannot usually be identified solely from their footprints — the tracks of a house cat, for example, resemble those of a baby tiger — footprints are much more plentiful than fossil bones and can provide a more complete picture of the types of animals walking around. “It makes it very easy for us to tell the very obvious signals of massive fauna change,” Dr. Olsen said. Because the sediment piles up quickly in lake basins, the researchers were able to assign a date to each footprint, based on the layer of rock where it was found. They determined that the mix of animals walking across what is now the East Coast of North America changed suddenly about 200 million years ago.
F. The tracks of several major reptile groups continue almost up to the layer of rock marking the end of the Triassic geologic period 202 million years ago, and then vanish in younger layers from the Jurassic period. “I think the footprint methodology is very novel and very exciting,” said Dr. Peter D. Ward, a professor of geology at the University of Washington. He called the data “very required more research. Last year, researchers led by Dr. Ward reported that the types of carbon in rock changed abruptly at this time, indicating a sudden dying off of plants over less than 50,000 years. The footprint research reinforces the hypothesis that the extinction was sudden.
G. Several groups of dinosaurs survived that extinction, and the footprints show that new groups emerged soon afterward. Before the extinction, about one-fifth of the footprints were left by dinosaurs; after the extinction, more than half were from dinosaurs. The changes, the researchers said, occurred within 30,000 years- a geological blink of an eye. The scientists postulate that the asteroid or comet impact and the resulting death of Triassic competitors allowed a few groups of carnivorous dinosaurs to evolve in size very quickly and dominate the top of the terrestrial food chain globally.
H. Among the creatures that disappeared in the extinction were the dominant predators at the time: 15-foot- long rauisuchians with great knife-like teeth and phytosaurs that resembled large crocodiles. Dinosaurs first evolved about 230 million years ago, but they were small, competing in a crowded ecological niche. Before the extinction 200 million years ago. the largest of the meat-eating dinosaurs were about the see of large dogs. Not terribly impressive.” Dr. Olsen said. The dinosaurs quickly grew. The toe-to-heel length of the foot of a meat eater from the Jurassic period was on average 20 percent longer than its Triassic ancestor. Larger feet can carry bigger bodies; the scientists infer the dinosaurs doubled in weight, eventually evolving into fearsome velociraptors, Tyrannosaurus rex and other large carnivorous dinosaurs.
I. The spurt in evolution is similar to the rise of mammals after the extinction of dinosaurs. Mammals, no larger than small dogs during the age of dinosaurs, diversified into tigers, elephants, whales and people after the reptilian competition died away. The success of the dinosaurs after the Triassic-Jurassic extinction may be why they did not survive the second extinction. “Small animals always do better in catastrophic situations. Dr. Olsen said, because they can survive on smaller amounts of food.” He also pointed out that scientists now believe the small dinosaurs did survive. “We just call them birds,” he said.
Use the information in the passage to match the people (listed A- C) with opinions or deeds (listed 1-6) below.
Write the appropriate letter (A-C) in boxes 1-6 on your answer sheet.
A. Paul Olsen
B. Michael Benton
C. Peter Ward
1. Large animals are in a disadvantageous position when disasters happen.
2. Radical changes in carbon types are related to massive extinction of vegetation.
3. The changes in earth’s animal species become easier to identify by adding footprint investigation.
4. Geochemical evidence suggests an asteroid impact before dinosaurs appeared.
5. Footprint study is a way of research.
6. Persuasive clues of an iridium spike were discovered for the first time.
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 1? In boxes 7-13 on your answer sheet write
TRUE if the statement is true
FALSE if the statement is false
NOT GIVEN if the information is not given in the passage 1
7. The rare element, iridium, was presented both on earth and in meteorites.
8. The meteor impact theory had been suspected before the discovery of the impact site and other supporting evidence.
9. Footprints are of little value in providing information, in comparison to fossil bones, because individual species cannot be identified with footprints.
10. According to scientists, the transition to a dinosaur-dominated era took place very quickly by geological time scales.
11 The creatures that disappeared in the extinction were the dominantly the 15- foot-long rauisuchians and large crocodiles.
12. Tyrannosaurus rex was larger in body size than other carnivorous dinosaurs.
13. Large dinosaurs died out but small ones evolved and competed with birds and mammals.