Abstract

A simple method, employing 50% confidence intervals, may be used to distinguish sudden from gradual extinctions. In cases where the fossil record is consistent with a sudden disappearance, the expected position of the extinction horizon may als o be determined. Analysis of the fossil ammonites on Seymour Island shows that their pattern of disappearances is consistent with a sudden mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary, even though a literal reading of the fossil record shows they disappeared gradually over a stratigraphic interval 10–50 m below the boundary. It is striking that the iridium anomaly on Seymour Island falls within the stratigraphic interval determined by the 50% confidence intervals to be the most likely place for the K-T boundary (assuming there was a sudden disappearance of ammonites at the boundary). However, a computer simulation of the Seymour Island ammonite fossil record indicates a wide range of other extinction scenarios, including gradual extinctions ranging over as much as 20 m (α = 0.05), that are consistent with the ammonite fossil record; without saturation collecting near the K-T boundary it will be impossible to distinguish between gradual and sudden extinction scenarios for the Seymour Island ammonites based on the ammonite fossil record alone.

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