Almost 13,000 years ago, there was a firestorm that sent Earth into an ice age. The fires were comparable to when the dinosaurs got wiped out. The fires, which started 12,800 years ago, covered a tenth of the Earth in flames. Just like the firestorm that killed the dinosaurs, this blaze was most likely caused by pieces of a comet. The comet itself would’ve been huge, spanning 62 miles across.
This firestorm happened right as the Earth was defrosting. For the 100,000 years leading up to this event, our planet had been covered in glaciers. However, all of the ash and dust from the firestorm smothered out all light from the sun, sending the Earth back into an ice age that would last for a thousand years.
“The hypothesis is that a large comet fragmented and the chunks impacted the Earth, causing this disaster,” said Adrian Melott from the University of Kansas. Melott co-authored a 2018 study on this event. “A number of different chemical signatures – carbon dioxide, nitrate, ammonia and others – all seem to indicate that an astonishing 10 percent of the Earth’s land surface, or about 10 million square kilometers [3.86 million square miles], was consumed by fires.”
24 Scientists Study Worldwide Evidence of This Firestorm and Ice Age
To get more information on the blaze and the ice age that followed, two dozen scientists studied around 170 different sites around the world. These sites had markers that gave data that would confirm an ice age happened. For example, they studied the pattern of pollen levels. The data suggest that forests of pine trees were suddenly burned off. Then, they were replaced by poplar trees. These trees often grow on otherwise barren ground.
Scientists also studied dust levels and high concentrations of platinum. Platinum is often found in comets and asteroids. Scientists even think that parts of that specific comet are still flying around our solar system. In addition to that, they studied the levels of ammonium and nitrate. These aerosols are often found after big combustions or fires.
The group of scientists believes that the comet and the following blaze set the world back into an ice age. The glaciers would’ve stopped retreating and the Earth would’ve cooled down slightly. They think that it caused one specific cooling period called the Younger Dryas period. Science Alert reports that this period was previously thought to have been caused by changing ocean currents. Even though scientists originally thought it was caused by the ocean, they hadn’t ruled out a comet and had actually been considering it for years.
Even though the group of scientists went in-depth with their study, not everyone is on board. According to Adrian Melott, “the impact hypothesis is still a hypothesis, but this study provides a massive amount of evidence, which we argue can only be all explained by a major cosmic impact.”