Accretion Rate of Extraterrestrial Matter: Iridium Deposited 33 to 67 Million Years Ago

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Science  06 Jun 1986:
Vol. 232, Issue 4755, pp. 1225-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.232.4755.1225


Iridium measured in 149 samples of a continuous 9-meter section of Pacific abyssal clay covering the time span 33 to 67 million years ago shows a well-defined peak only at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. In the rest of the section iridium ranges from a minimum concentration near 0.35 nanograms per gram in the Paleocene to a maximum near 1.7 in the Eocene; between 63 and 33 million years ago the mean iridium accumulation rate is approximately 13 nanograms per square centimeter per million years. Correction for terrestrial iridium leads to an extraterrestrial flux of9 ± 3 nanograms of iridium per square centimeter per million years, and an estimated annual global influx of 78 billion grams of chondritic matter, consistent with recent estimates of the influx of dust, meteorites, and crater-producing bodies with masses ranging from 10-13 to 1018 grams. Combining the recent flux of objects ranging in mass from 106 to 107 grams with the flux of 1014 - to 1015 -gram objects indicates that the number of objects is equal to 0.54 divided by the radius (in kilometers) to the 2.1 power. Periodic comet showers should increase the cometary iridium flux by a factor of 200 to 600 on a time scale of 1 to 3 million years; the predicted iridium maxima (more than 30 times background) are not present in the intervals associated with the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary or the tektiteproducing late Eocene events.