If published estimates of SO2 volatilization and NOx generation by the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) impact were atmospherically converted to sulfuric and nitric acid, globally dispersed, and rapidly rained out, the resulting acid concentrations would bracket a critical threshold in surface-ocean chemistry. Rapid and globally uniform deposition of masses corresponding to the lowest estimates would have had no major effect on sea-surface chemistry. However, similar deposition of masses corresponding to the highest estimates would have provided enough acid to destroy the carbonate-buffering capacity of the upper 100 m of the world ocean and catastrophically reduce surface-ocean pH. Despite the possible effect of the highest estimated acid yields, scenarios that rely on acid rain as the primary explanation of global K-T extinctions are not readily compatible with K-T records of terrestrial and marine survival or culturing studies of modern marine plankton. The possibility that acid rain was a primary cause of K-T extinctions can be tested further by analysis of geographic variation in extinction intensity, because such variation was a likely consequence if the impact resulted in global dispersal and rapid globally uniform deposition of more than ∼6 x 1016 mol of H2SO4 or 1.2 x 1017 mol of HNO3.
- Geological Society of America