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What really killed dinosaurs: AI intervenes in scientists' dispute

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
The asteroid impact probably did not play such a significant role in the extinction. Source: OBOZ.UA/Getty

Scientists have long argued about what exactly caused the complete extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago: an asteroid impact or a volcanic eruption. Each of the theories has its pros and cons, so the search for the one true cause of extinction has been going on for quite some time. Now, in order to put a definite end to this issue, scientists have engaged artificial intelligence and made it work backwards.

An article published in Science magazine describes the research conducted with the help of AI. The researchers applied the so-called reverse engineering to make the computer build their theories from effects to causes, rather than the traditional forward path.

"Most models move forward. We adapted the carbon cycle model to work in reverse, using the effect to find the cause through statistics, giving it only a minimum of prior information," explained Alex Cox, first author of the study and a graduate student at Dartmouth's Department of Earth Sciences.

In the course of its work, the AI calculated more than 300,000 possible scenarios of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and biological productivity in the million years before and after the extinction.

Geochemical and organic remains in the fossil record the catastrophic conditions during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. Food webs were destroyed by an unstable atmosphere that fluctuated sharply from cold to hot conditions. The reason for this is the oversaturation of the atmosphere with sulfur, which obscured the sun, minerals in the air, and carbon dioxide, which retained heat.

According to SciTechDaily, it was initially believed that this state of the atmosphere was caused by volcanic eruptions. But later, the Chicxulub impact crater in Mexico was discovered, which was caused by an asteroid several kilometers wide. So the asteroid theory became a priority. Later, however, the theories began to converge into one. It turned out that the planet was probably already suffering from powerful volcanic eruptions when the asteroid hit it.

But scientists have not been able to determine which of the two factors played a decisive, fatal role.

That's why the researchers decided to turn to an unbiased source - AI - and let it put the debate to rest.

The AI study revealed that volcanic eruptions had been going on for about 300,000 years when the asteroid collided with the Earth. It also found that the leakage of climate-changing volcanic gases could have been enough to trigger global extinction. It is estimated that over due to nearly 1 million years of eruptions, up to 10.4 trillion tons of carbon dioxide and 9.3 trillion tons of sulfur were released into the atmosphere.

The researchers noted that scientists have known before that volcanoes can cause mass extinctions, but "this is the first independent estimate of volatile emissions based on data on their environmental impact."

Regarding the asteroid, the AI found that there was a sharp drop in the accumulation of organic carbon in the deep ocean after its impact, which was likely due to the fact that the asteroid caused the death of numerous species of animals and plants.

There was also evidence of a decrease in temperature, which was most likely due to the fact that the asteroid during the collision released a significant amount of sulfur into the air, which acted as a cooling agent.

The asteroid impact could also have resulted in the release of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, but the AI found no evidence of a spike in emissions of either gas.

The researchers said that the AI took hours, not months or years, to analyze all the data.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA reported that dinosaurs existed on the Earth, but in a completely different part of the galaxy.

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