More than seventy percent of our Earth’s surface is covered by water. This means that if a giant asteroid was to hit our earth, it is sure to make a big splash! The question was posed to a team of data scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and they decided to get to speculate the results using a scientific model.
Galen Gisler, who headed the study at LANL used supercomputers to model the impact of a high-speed space rock if it hits into an ocean, and the results were surprisingly beautiful; if you think annihilation of earth can be called beautiful.
Gisler presented the results at the American Geophysical Union meeting this week, which concluded that since asteroids are point sources, the waves generated by an asteroid would diminish rapidly, which doesn’t necessarily comply with our general perception of watching them growing more and more ferocious and covering hundreds of miles like in the movies.
But they also pointed that a bigger concern would be the water vapor produced by the event.
“The most significant effect of an impact into the ocean is the injection of water vapor into the stratosphere, with possible climate effects”
The simulations showed how a large (250 meter-across) steaming hot rock would vaporize 250 metric megatons of water. The vapor would go into the troposphere, where the water vapor would turn into rain and come back down fairly quickly. But due to the high impact, there is a chance that some of the vapor will go as high as the stratosphere. This would be a problem since vapor is a potent greenhouse gas, meaning it would have adverse effects on our climate.
It is also fascinating to note that not all asteroids make it to the surface of the earth. Most of them explode before the impact, leading to the creation of pressure waves propagates in all directions. Gisler’s models concluded that these “airburst” asteroids would considerably be less damaging than the waves produced by a direct collision.
The model also simulated a hit near an ocean, and Gisler says a strike near a populated coastline would be more dangerous than any other scenario, with giant tsunami waves devouring everything within miles of sight.