STOCKTON, N.J.— A huge meteorite strike may have helped the dinosaurs rise as well as fall. That’s what a small crew of mud-spattered researchers who drilled down hundreds of feet in New Jersey this summer wanted to discover.
Roughly 200 million years ago, at least half the species on Earth died off over the course of about 100,000 years, both on land and in sea. This mass extinction, at the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic periods and one of five known such events in Earth’s geologic history, set the stage for dinosaurs to rise to prominence and dominate the planet’s terrestrial life for the next 135 million years.
The quest for answers regarding dinosaurs and the end-Triassic mass extinction had previously led paleontologist Paul Olsen and his colleagues at Columbia University’s Lamont –Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) to globe-trot to around cities in Morocco and along sea cliffs in the U.K . digging up clues from that past era. This summer, it brought them to the Kell family’s yard in western New Jersey—the area holds one of the most visible examples of the Triassic– Jurassic boundary.