Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Chicxulub impact spherules in the North Atlantic and Caribbean: age constraints and Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary hiatus


The Chicxulub impact is commonly believed to have caused the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary mass extinction and a thin impact spherule layer in the North Atlantic and Caribbean is frequently cited as proof. We evaluated this claim in the seven best North Atlantic and Caribbean Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary sequences based on high-resolution biostratigraphy, quantitative faunal analyses and stable isotopes. Results reveal a major Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary unconformity spanning most of Danian subzone P1a(1) and Maastrichtian zones CF1–CF2 (~400 ka) in the NW Atlantic Bass River core, ODP Sites 1049A, 1049C and 1050C. In the Caribbean ODP Sites 999B and 1001B the unconformity spans from the early Danian zone P1a(1) through to zones CF1–CF4 (~3 Ma). Only in the Demerara Rise ODP Site 1259B is erosion relatively minor and restricted to the earliest Danian zone P0 and most of subzone P1a(1) (~150 ka). In all sites examined, Chicxulub impact spherules are reworked into the early Danian subzone P1a(1) about 150–200 ka after the mass extinction. A similar pattern of erosion and redeposition of impact spherules in Danian sediments has previously been documented from Cuba, Haiti, Belize, Guatemala, south and central Mexico. This pattern can be explained by intensified Gulf stream circulation at times of climate cooling and sea level changes. The age of the Chicxulub impact cannot be determined from these reworked impact spherule layers, but can be evaluated based on the stratigraphically oldest spherule layer in NE Mexico and Texas, which indicates that this impact predates the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary by about 130–150 ka.

Corresponding author
Author for correspondence:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

S. Abramovich & G. Keller 2003. Planktonic foraminiferal response to the latest Maastrichtian abrupt warm event: a case study from South Atlantic DSDP Site 525A. Marine Micropaleontology 48, 225–49.

S. Abramovich , S. Yovel‐Corem , A. Almogi‐Labin & C. Benjamini 2010. Global climate change and planktic foraminiferal response in the Maastrichtian. Paleoceanography 25, PA2201.

T. Adatte , G. Keller & W. Stinnesbeck 2002. Late Cretaceous to early Paleocene climate and sea-level fluctuations. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 178, 165–98.

L. Alegret , I. Arenillas , J. A. Arz , C. Diaz , J. M. Grajales-Nishimura , A. Melendez , E. Molina , R. Rojas & A. R. Soria 2005. Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary deposits at Loma Capiro, central Cuba: evidence for the Chicxulub impact. Geology 33 (9), 721–24.

L. Alegret , I. Arenillas , J. A. Arz , C. Liesa , A. Melendez , E. Molina , A. R. Soria & E. Thomas 2002. The Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary: sedimentology and micropaleontology at the El Mulato section, NE Mexico. Terra Nova 14 (5), 330–6.

I. Arenillas , J. A. Arz , J. M. Grajales-Nishimura , G. Murillo-Muneton , W. Alvarez , A. Camargo-Zanguera , E. Molina & C. Rosales-Dominguez 2006. Chicxulub impact event is Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary in age: new micropaleontological evidence. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 249, 241–57.

L. Alegret , E. Molina & E. Thomas 2001. Benthic foraminifera at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary around the Gulf of Mexico. Geology 29 (10), 891–4.

L. Alegret & E. Thomas 2004. Benthic foraminifera and environmental turnover at the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary at Blake Nose (ODP Hole 1049C, Northwestern Atlantic. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 208, 5983.

J. A. Arz , L. Alegret & I. Arenillas 2004. Foraminiferal biostratigraphy and paleoenvironmental reconstruction at the Yaxcopoil-1 drill hole (Chicxulub crater, Yucatan Peninsula). Meteoritics and Planetary Science 39, 1099–112.

J. A. Arz , I. Arenillas , A. R. Soria , L. Alegret , J. M. Grajales-Nishimura , C. L. Liesa , A. Meléndez , E. Molina & M. C. Rosales 2001. Micropaleontology and sedimentology across the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary at La Ceiba (Mexico): impact-generated sediment gravity flows. Journal of South American Earth Sciences 14, 505–19.

W. A. Berggren , D. V. Kent , C. C. Swisher & M.-P. Aubry 1995. A revised Cenozoic geochronology and chronostratigraphy. In Geochronology, Time Scales and Global Stratigraphic Correlation (eds W. A. Berggren , D. V. Kent , M. P. Aubry , & J. Hardenbol ), pp. 129212. Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM), Special Publication no. 54.

T. J. Bralower , C. K. Paull & R. M. Leckie 1998. The Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary cocktail: Chicxulub impact triggers margin collapse and extensive sediment gravity flows. Geology 26, 331–4.

S. Cande & D. V. Kent 1995. Revised calibration of the geomagnetic polarity timescale for the Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic. Journal of Geophysical Research 100, 6093–5.

D. C. Colodner , E. A. Boyle , J. M. Edmond & J. Thomson 1992. Post-depositional mobility of platinum, iridium, and rhenium in marine sediments. Nature 358, 402–4.

A. A. Ekdale & W. Stinnesbeck l998. Ichnology of Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary beds in northeastern Mexico. Palaios 13, 593602.

A. S. Gale 2006. The Cretaceous–Palaeogene boundary on the Brazos River, Falls County, Texas: is there evidence for impact-induced tsunami sedimentation? Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 117, 173–85.

G. Graup & B. Spettel 1989. Mineralogy and phase-chemistry of an Ir-enriched pre-K/T layer from the Lattengebirge, Bavarian Alps, and significance for the KTB problem. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 95, 271–90.

B. T. Huber , K. G. MacLeod & N. A. Tur 2008. Chronostratigraphic framework for upper Campanian–Maastrichtian sediments on the Blake Nose (Subtropical North Atlantic). Journal of Foraminiferal Research 38 (2), 162–82.

G. Keller , T. Adatte , G. Baum & Z. Berner 2008. Reply to ‘Chicxulub impact Predates K–T boundary: new evidence from Brazos, Texas’ comment by Schulte et al. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 269, 621–9.

G. Keller , T. Adatte , Z. Berner , M. Harting , G. Baum , M. Prauss , A. A. Tantawy & D. Stueben 2007. Chicxulub impact predates K–T Boundary: new evidence from Texas. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 255, 339–56.

G. Keller , T. Adatte , Z. Berner , A. Pardo & L. Lopez-Oliva 2009. New evidence concerning the age and biotic effects of the Chicxulub impact in Mexico. Journal of the Geological Society, London 166, 393411.

G. Keller , T. Adatte , W. Stinnesbeck , V. Luciani , N. Karoui & D. Zaghbib-Turki 2002. Paleoecology of the Cretaceous–Tertiary mass extinction in planktic foraminifera. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 178, 257–98.

G. Keller , T. Adatte & W. Stinnesbeck 2004 a. More evidence that Chicxulub predates KT boundary. Meteoritics and Planetary Science 39 (6/7), 1127–44.

G. Keller , T. Adatte , W. Stinnesbeck , M. Rebolledo-Vieyra , J. Urrutia Fucugauchi , U. Kramar & D. Stueben 2004 b. Chicxulub crater predates K-T boundary mass extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 101 (11), 3721–992.

G. Keller , T. Adatte , W. Stinnesbeck , D. Stueben & Z. Berner 2001. Age, chemo- and biostratigraphy of Haiti spherule-rich deposits: a multi-event K-T scenario. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 38, 197227.

G. Keller , L. Li & N. MacLeod 1995. The Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary stratotype section at El Kef, Tunisia: how catastrophic was the mass extinction? Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 119, 221–54.

G. Keller & M. Lindinger 1989. Stable isotope, TOC and CaCO3 record across the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary at El Kef, Tunisia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 73 (3/4), 243–65.

G. Keller , J. G. Lopez-Oliva , W. Stinnesbeck & T. Adatte 1997. Age, stratigraphy and deposition of near-K/T siliciclastic deposits in Mexico: relation to bolide impact? Geological Society of America Bulletin 109, 410–28.

G. Keller , J. B. Lyons , N. MacLeod & C. B. Officer 1993. Is there evidence for Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary impact deposits in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico? Geology 21, 776–80.

G. Keller , W. Stinnesbeck , T. Adatte , B. Holland , D. Stueben , M. Harting , C. De Leon & J. De La Cruz 2003 a. Spherule deposits in Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary sediments in Belize and Guatemala. Journal of the Geological Society, London 160, 113.

G. Keller , W. Stinnesbeck , T. Adatte & D. Stueben 2003 b. Multiple impacts across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Earth-Science Reviews 62, 327–63.

A. Klaus , R. D. Norris , D. Kroon & J. Smit 2000. Impact-induced mass wasting at the K-T boundary: Blake Nose, western North Atlantic. Geology 28, 319–22.

U. Kramar , D. Stueben , Z. Berner , W. Stinnesbeck , H. Philipp & G. Keller 2001. Are Ir anomalies sufficient and unique indicators for cosmic events? Planetary and Space Science 49, 831–7.

C.-T., A. Lee , G. J. Wasserburg & F. T. Kyte 2003. Platinum-group elements (PGE) and rhenium in marine sediments across the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary: constraints on Re-PGE transport in the marine environment. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 67 (4), 655–70.

L. Li & G. Keller l998 a. Abrupt deep-sea warming at the end of the Cretaceous. Geology 26 (11), 995–8.

L. Li & G. Keller l998 c. Maastrichtian climate, productivity and faunal turnovers in planktic foraminifera in South Atlantic DSDP Sites 525A and 21. Marine Micropaleontology 33, 5586.

N. MacLeod & G. Keller 1991 a. Hiatus distribution and mass extinctions at the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary. Geology 19, 497501.

N. MacLeod & G. Keller 1991 b. How complete are Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary sections? A chronostratigraphic estimate based on graphic correlation. Geological Society of America Bulletin 103, 1439–57.

K. G. MacLeod , D. L. Whitney , B. T. Huber & C. Koeberl 2007. Impact and extinction in remarkably complete Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary sections from Demerara Rise, tropical western North Atlantic. Geological Society of America Bulletin 119, 101–15.

F. J.-M. R. Maurrasse & G. Sen 1991. Impacts, tsunamis, and the Haitian Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary layer. Science 252, 1690–3.

R. D. Norris , J. Firth , J. Blusztajn & G. Ravizza 2000. Mass failure of the North Atlantic margin triggered by the Cretaceous–Paleogene bolide impact. Geology 28, 1119–22.

R. D. Norris , B. T. Huber & J. Self-Trail 1999. Synchroneity of the KT oceanic mass extinction and meteorite impact: Blake Nose, western North Atlantic. Geology 27, 419–22.

R. K. Olsson , K. G. Miller , J. V. Browning , D. Habib & P. J. Sugarmann 1997. Ejecta layer at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, Bass River, New Jersey (Ocean Drilling Program Leg 174AX). Geology 25, 759–62.

M. L. Prauss 2009. The K/Pg boundary at Brazos River, Texas – an approach by marine palynology. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 283, 195215.

P. Schulte , L. Alegret , I. Arenillas et al.2010. The Chicxulub asteroid impact and mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. Science 327, 1214–18.

D. P. Schrag , D. J. DePaolo & F. M. Richter 1995. Reconstructing past sea surface temperatures from oxygen isotope measurements of bulk carbonate. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 59, 2265–78.

P. Schulte , A. Deutsch , T. Salge , J. Berndt , A. Kontny , K. MacLeod , R. D. Neuser & S. Krumm 2009. A dual-layer Chicxulub ejecta sequence with shocked carbonates from the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, Demerara Rise, western Atlantic. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 73, 1180–204.

P. Schulte , R. P. Speijer , H. Brinkhuis , A. Kontny , P. Caleys , S. Galeotti & J. Smit 2008. Comment on the paper; ‘Chicxulub impact predates K-T boundary: new evidence from Brazos, Texas’ by Keller et al. (2007). Earth and Planetary Science Letters 269, 613–19.

P. Schulte , R. P. Speijer , H. Mai & A. Kontny 2006. The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-P) boundary at Brazos, Texas: sequence stratigraphy, depositional events and the Chicxulub impact. Sedimentary Geology 184, 77109.

J. Smit 1999. The global stratigraphy of the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary impact ejecta. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 27, 75113.

J. Smit , A. Montanari , N. H. M. Swinburne , W. Alvarez , A. R. Hildebrand , S. V. Margolis , P. Claeys , W. Lorie & F. Asaro 1992. Tektite-bearing, deep-water clastic unit at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in northeastern Mexico. Geology 20, 99103.

J. Smit , S. van der Gaast & W. Lustenhouwer 2004. Is the transition to post-impact rock complete? Some remarks based on XRF sanning, electron-microprobe and thin section analyses of the Yaxcopoil-1 core in the Chicxulub crater. Meteoritics and Planetary Science 39 (6), 114.

W. Stinnesbeck , J. M. Barbarin , G. Keller , J. G. Lopez-Oliva , D. A. Pivnik , J. B. Lyons , C. B. Officer , T. Adatte , G. Graup , R. Rocchia & E. Robin 1993. Deposition of near K/T Boundary clastic sediments in NE Mexico: impact or turbidite deposits? Geology 21, 797800.

W. Stinnesbeck , G. Keller , P. Schulte , D. Stueben , Z. Berner , U. Kramar & J. G. Lopez-Oliva 2002. The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary transition at Coxquihui, State of Veracruz, Mexico: evidence for an early Danian impact event? Journal of South American Research 15, 497509.

D. Stueben , U. Kramar , M. Harting , W. Stinnesbeck & G. Keller 2005. High-resolution geochemical record of Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary sections in Mexico: new constraints in the K/T and Chicxulub events. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 69, 2559–79.

A. A. Tantawy 2003. Calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy and paleoecology of the Cretaceous–Tertiary transition in the western desert of Egypt. Marine Micropaleontology 47, 323–56.

N. Thibault & S. Gardin 2006. Maastrichtian calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy and paleoecology in the Equatorial Atlantic (Demerara Rise, ODP Leg 207 Hole 1258A). Revue de Micropaléontology 49, 199214.

D. K. Watkins & J. M. Self-Trail 2005. Calcareous nannofossil evidence for the existence of the Gulf Stream during the late Maastrichtian. Paleoceanography 20, PA3006.

J. C. Zachos , M. A. Arthur & W. E. Dean 1989. Geochemical evidence for suppression of pelagic marine productivity at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. Nature 337, 61–4.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Geological Magazine
  • ISSN: 0016-7568
  • EISSN: 1469-5081
  • URL: /core/journals/geological-magazine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 13
Total number of PDF views: 22 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 146 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 27th March 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.