The event terminating the Cretaceous period and the Mesozoic era caused massive extinctions of flora and fauna worldwide. Theories of the nature of this event can be classed as endogenic (volcanic, climatic, etc.) or exogenic (extraterrestrial causes). Mineralogical evidence from the boundary clays and claystones strongly favor the impact of an extraterrestrial body as the cause of this event. Nonmarine KT boundary claystones are comprised of two separate layers-an upper layer composed of high-angle ejecta material (shocked quartz, altered glass and spinel) and a basal kaolinitic layer containing spherules, clasts, and altered glass, together with some shocked grains. Recognition of this dual-layered nature of the boundary clay is important for the determination of the timing and processes involved in the impact event and in the assignment and interpretation of geochemical signatures. Multiple sets of shock-induced microdeformations (planar features) in quartz grains separated from KT boundary clays provide compelling evidence of an impact event. This mineralogical manifestation of shock metamorphism is associated worldwide with a large positive anomaly of iridium in these boundary clays, which has also been considered indicative of the impact of a large extraterrestrial body. Global distributions of maximum sizes of shocked quartz grains from the boundary clays and the mineralogy of the ejecta components favor an impact on or near the North American continent. Spinel crystals (magnesioferrite) occur in the boundary clays as micrometer-sized octahedra or skeletal forms. Their composition differs from that of spinels found in terrestrial oceanic basalts. Magnesioferrite crystals are restricted to the high-angle ejecta layer of the boundary clays and their small size and skeletal morphology suggest that they are condensation products of a vaporized bolide. Hollow spherules ranging up to 1 mm in size are ubiquitously associated with the boundary clays. In nonmarine sections, where a high-angle ejecta layer and an underlying kaolinitic layer can be distinguished, the spherules are found only in the kaolinitic layer. The morphologies and surface features of these spherules suggest that they are original forms, and not secondary growths or algal bodies. These impact spherules closely resemble microtektites in size and shape. All of these features of the boundary clay are uniquely associated with impact, and cannot have been formed by volcanic or other terrestrial processes. ?? 1990.
Additional publication details
Shock-induced microdeformations in quartz and other mineralogical indications of an impact event at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary