Meteorite flux to Earth in the Early Cretaceous as reconstructed from sediment-dispersed extraterrestrial spinels

Birger Schmitz*, Philipp R. Heck, Walter Alvarez, Noriko T. Kita, Surya S. Rout, Anders Cronholm, Céline Defouilloy, Ellinor Martin, Jan Smit, Fredrik Terfelt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We show that Earth's sedimentary strata can provide a record of the collisional evolution of the asteroid belt. From 1652 kg of pelagic Maiolica limestone of Berriasian-Hauterivian age from Italy, we recovered 108 extraterrestrial spinel grains (32-250 μm) representing relict minerals from coarse micrometeorites. Elemental and three oxygen isotope analyses were used to characterize the grains, providing a first-order estimate of the major types of asteroids delivering material at the time. Comparisons were made with meteorite-flux time "windows" in the Ordovician before and after the L-chondrite parent-body breakup. In the Early Cretaceous, ~80% of the extraterrestrial spinels originated from ordinary chondrites. The ratios between the three groups of ordinary chondrites, H, L, LL, appear similar to the present, ~1:1:0.2, but differ significantly from Ordovician ratios. We found no signs of a hypothesized Baptistina LLchondrite breakup event. About 10% of the grains in the Maiolica originate from achondritic meteorite types that are very rare ( < 1%) on Earth today, but that were even more common in the Ordovician. Because most meteorite groups have lower spinel content than the ordinary chondrites, our data indicate that the latter did not dominate the flux during the Early Cretaceous to the same extent as today. Based on studies of three windows in deep time, we argue that there may have been a gradual long-term (a few hundred million years) turnover in the meteorite flux from dominance of achondrites in the early Phanerozoic to ordinary chondrites in the late Phanerozoic, interrupted by short-term (a few million years) meteorite cascades from single asteroid breakup events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-810
Number of pages4
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


This work was supported by a European Research Council Advanced Grant to Schmitz. We thank A. Montanari, S. Boschi, K. Terfelt, M. Alvarez, and E. Schmitz, L. Schmitz, and N. Schmitz for field support, and F. Iqbal (Lund University, Sweden), J. Kern (University of Wisconsin, USA), and B. Strack (Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA) for laboratory assistance. Heck was funded by the Tawani Foundation. WiscSIMS is partly supported by U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grants EAR-03-19230 and EAR-13-55590. Three-dimensional microscopy performed at the Keck-II facility NUANCE Center was supported by the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSF EEC-0647560), Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (NSF DMR-1121262), the Keck Foundation, the State of Illinois, and Northwestern University. We thank P. Claeys, A. Wittmann, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.

FundersFunder number
National Science Foundation1658823


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