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Geologist who linked cosmic strike to dinosaurs' extinction takes top prize
Date:10/16/2008

many locations. In the western United States and elsewhere, researchers also found shocked or melted rocks, and signs of tsunamis, all coinciding with the 65-million year Cretaceous-Tertiary, or K-T, boundary, as it became known. The clincher came in 1990, when a team following Alvarez's leads found conclusive evidence of a well-hidden 110-mile (180-kilometer)-wide crater spanning the seafloor and coast of Mexico's Yucatn Peninsula. Named the Chicxulub Crater, it was made by a Mt. Everest-size object right at the K-T boundary. Alvarez was seen as vindicated, though some scientists still say huge volcanic eruptions may also have played a role in the mass extinctions, or that there may have been more than one impact.

"Research conducted and inspired by Walter Alvarez has changed the way we view the history of the Earth," says the Vetlesen Prize committee's citation. "For more than a century the dominant view of how Earth evolved was one of 'uniformitarianism"a slow, gentle change caused by processes observable today. [His] work proved that major catastrophic events can shape the evolution of our planet."

G. Michael Purdy, director of Lamont-Doherty, said: "Alvarez's research showed that life on earth is affected by how our planet interacts with the cosmos. He not only moved the study of extraterrestrial impacts from science fiction into the mainstream; he forever changed the way we view our world and its evolution."

With modern catastrophismincluding a growing wariness of potential dangers from future cosmic collisions--now firmly embedded in books, movies and museum exhibits, the prize committee said that Alvarez has succeeded in "bridging the scientific world and that of popular culture."

The Vetlesen Prize is given "for scientific achievement resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, or its relations to the universe." It was established in 1959 by the trustees of G. Unger Vetlesen, a Norwegian
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Contact: Kevin Krajick
kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu
212-854-9729
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Source:Eurekalert  

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Geologist who linked cosmic strike to dinosaurs' extinction takes top prize
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