Think you know big waves? Think again. Scientists have discovered that the asteroid responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs caused a wave so large that it defies comprehension. Picture this, you’re standing on a beach – you’d have to be a dinosaur or some primitive mammal, but that’s beside the point – and then you see a wall of water rushing towards you. It’s not 50 metres high. It’s not even 500 metres high. No, the water bearing down on you is almost 5,000 metres high. That’s nearly 5 kilometres of water straight up. At that point even Michael Phelps wouldn’t be a strong enough swimmer.
We now know about this incredible oceanic event thanks to modelling from a team of scientists that revealed the dino-deadening asteroid’s impact caused a global tsunami that decimated coastlines from North America to New Zealand.
To put the sheer scale of this prehistoric wave in context, the tallest wave ever recorded took place in July of 1958 after an 8.3-magintude earthquake shook the southern coast of Alaska. This caused a landslide in the narrow body of water known as Lituya Bay. With mountains on either side there was nowhere for the water to go, resulting in a deadly tsunami that killed five people and reached 524 metres high. That’s taller than the Empire State Building. Terrifying, right? Well, the wave our scientific friends discovered was almost 10 times taller than that. Check out our animated graph below to get a sense of its enormity.
“This tsunami was strong enough to disturb and erode sediments in ocean basins halfway around the globe, leaving either a gap in the sedimentary records or a jumble of older sediments,” said Molly Range, lead author of the study and a paleoceanographer – possibly the most niche job title we’ve ever heard – at the University of Michigan.
Range’s team studied ancient sediments from over 100 sites globally to explore the effect on the geological record of the extreme waves caused by the asteroid’s impact. Modelling of the fallout from the asteroid showed that 2.5 minutes after it struck, a wall of water almost 5 kilometres high was pushed outward. Now, if we’re completely honest it would have lost some of that scale by the time it actually made contact with land, but it still would have been a terrifying sight for any dinos enjoying a nice day on the beach at the time. If you’re scientifically minded, check out the research team’s report via the link below.