The Official Viewpoint?

Last year one of my book reviews presented The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy by Officer and Page. This 1996 book was a presentation of the minority view of the Cretaceous mass extinction in popular format. It was following this review that Steve Schafersman, Geology Professor at Miami University and Dry Dredgers member, presented a program to the club with the more accepted viewpoint.

Earlier this year Walter Alvarez published a popular book recounting this mainstream theory which he and others originated in 1980: T. rex and the Crater of Doom, Princeton University Press, 1997, $24.95 in hardcover. This well written work recounts both the work by Alvarez and his team before the original publication of the impact theory in Science in 1980 as well as the work of others in testing their theory in subsequent years.

You will recall that the impact theory of the end Cretaceous (KT) mass extinction event proposed that a comet sized body impacted the earth about 65 million years ago. The resultant side effects so disrupted the climate and ecology of the entire planet that the dinosaurs and many other life forms became extinct. Part of the debate following the original publication came from Charles Officer and his supporters who claimed that the evidence offered to support the impact theory could also be explained by less fantastic earthbound causes. Many offered that the dinosaur extinction was gradual in nature and that even if a comet hit the earth at the KT boundary the dinosaurs were all but extinct by then anyway. Over the past seventeen years most of the doubters have been swayed to accept the impact theory although Charles Officer remains steadfast in his beliefs and, from what I understand, many vertebrate paleontologists still feel that the dinosaur extinction was well under way before the impact.

T. rex and the Crater of Doom is written by Walter Alvarez, a geologist and son of Nobel winning physicist Luis Alvarez. It was this father-son team along with their colleagues who did the original investigations and analysis of KT boundary sediments. Discovery of the now famous Iridium anomaly at Gubbio, Italy was the first clue to an extraterrestrial impact.

Alvarez presents the impact theory as a story of discovery. This is not a dry account of events nor presentation of abstract facts. His first dozen pages relate his interpretation of the impact events as they may have happened. He then relates the probable longer reaching effects. This material is meant to pique your interest.

The next few chapters take the reader into the world of geological theory. Alvarez briefly explains some of the history of geology including plate tectonics, uniformitarianism and catastrophism, magnetic reversals, extraterrestrial elements, and the interaction of geology and physics.

The remainder of T. rex and the Crater of Doom accounts for the development of the original theory and the subsequent protracted peer review and testing (of their theory). Many of you who have watched the many dinosaur extinction PBS programs are familiar with the search for the "smoking gun" - the impact crater evidence at the precise timing of the KT boundary. This search is well documented in this book with the discovery of the Yucatan Chicxulub impact structure providing the final proof.

Alvarez’ book is fairly short in length having only 146 pages of text. Twenty-two pages of notes keyed to the text by chapter follow for use as reference to further study by the reader. I think you’ll find this an interesting book that will keep your interest.

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