GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 118-14
Presentation Time: 4:45 PM


THOMAS, Brian C., Physics and Astronomy, Washburn University, 1700 SW College Ave, Topeka, KS 66621,

Recent measurements of 60Fe in ocean sediment, FeMn crust, and FeMn nodules have strongly confirmed that multiple supernovae happened at distances of about 300 light years, consisting of two main events: one at 1.7 to 3.2 million years ago, and the other at 6.5 to 8.7 million years ago. Given the updated and refined information, we ask whether such supernovae are expected to have had substantial effects on the terrestrial atmosphere and biota. In a first look at the most probable cases, combining photon and cosmic ray effects, we find that a supernova at about 300 light years can have only a small effect on terrestrial organisms from visible light and that chemical changes such as ozone depletion are weak. However, tropospheric ionization right down to the ground due to the penetration high energy cosmic rays will increase by nearly an order of magnitude for thousands of years, and irradiation by muons on the ground and in the upper ocean will increase 20-fold, which will approximately triple the overall radiation load on terrestrial organisms. Such irradiation has been linked to possible changes in climate and increased cancer and mutation rates. This may be related to a minor mass extinction around the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary, and further research on the effects is needed.
  • PleistoceneSN_GSA-Sept2016_upload.pptx (9.5 MB)