Nanodiamond-rich layer across three continents consistent with major cosmic impact at 12,800 cal BP

Charles R. Kinzie, Shane S.Que Hee, Adrienne Stich, Kevin A. Tague, Chris Mercer, Joshua J. Razink, Douglas J. Kennett, Paul S. DeCarli, Ted E. Bunch, James H. Wittke, Isabel Israde-Alcántara, James L. Bischoff, Albert C. Goodyear, Kenneth B. Tankersley, David R. Kimbel, Brendan J. Culleton, Jon M. Erlandson, Thomas W. Stafford, Johan B. Kloosterman, Andrew M.T. MooreRichard B. Firestone, J. E. Aura Tortosa, J. F. Jordá Pardo, Allen West, James P. Kennett, Wendy S. Wolbach

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46 Scopus citations


A major cosmic-impact event has been proposed at the onset of the Younger Dryas (YD) cooling episode at ≈12,800 ± 150 years before present, forming the YD Boundary (YDB) layer, distributed over 150 million km2 on four continents. In 24 dated stratigraphic sections in 10 countries of the Northern Hemisphere, the YDB layer contains a clearly defined abundance peak in nanodiamonds (NDs), a major cosmic-impact proxy. Observed ND polytypes include cubic diamonds, lonsdaleite-like crystals, and diamond-like carbon nanoparticles, called n-diamond and i-carbon. The ND abundances in bulk YDB sediments ranged up to ≈500 ppb (mean: 200 ppb) and that in carbon spherules up to ≈3700 ppb (mean: ≈750 ppb); 138 of 205 sediment samples (67%) contained no detectable NDs. Isotopic evidence indicates that YDB NDs were produced from terrestrial carbon, as with other impact diamonds, and were not derived from the impactor itself. The YDB layer is also marked by abundance peaks in other impact-related proxies, including cosmic-impact spherules, carbon spherules (some containing NDs), iridium, osmium, platinum, charcoal, aciniform carbon (soot), and high-temperature melt-glass. This contribution reviews the debate about the presence, abundance, and origin of the concentration peak in YDB NDs.We describe an updated protocol for the extraction and concentration of NDs from sediment, carbon spherules, and ice, and we describe the basis for identification and classification of YDB ND polytypes, using nine analytical approaches. The large body of evidence now obtained about YDB NDs is strongly consistent with an origin by cosmic impact at ≈12,800 cal BP and is inconsistent with formation of YDB NDs by natural terrestrial processes, including wildfires, anthropogenesis, and/or influx of cosmic dust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-506
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Geology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology


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