Artist's impression of a deep ocean meteor impact.
Sydney -- A huge meteor striking Earth 2.5 million years could have generated a massive tsunami and plunged the world into the Ice Ages, Australian researchers suggest.
Scientists at the University of New South Wales say that because the meteor -- more than a mile across - crashed into deep water in the southern Pacific Ocean, most researchers have discounted its potential for catastrophic impacts on coastlines around the Pacific rim or its capacity to destabilize the entire planet's climate system.
"This is the only known deep-ocean impact event on the planet and it's largely been forgotten because there's no obvious giant crater to investigate, as there would have been if it had hit a land mass," lead study author James Goff said in a university release Wednesday.
Goff is co-director of UNSW's Australia-Pacific Tsunami Research Centre and Natural Hazards Research Laboratory.
"But consider that we're talking about something the size of a small mountain crashing at very high speed into very deep ocean, between Chile and Antarctica," he said.
"Unlike a land impact, where the energy of the collision is largely absorbed locally, this would have generated an incredible splash with waves literally hundreds of meters high near the impact site."
Geological deposits in Chile, Antarctica, Australia, and elsewhere showing evidence of climatic change could be the result of mega-tsunami inundation, the researchers suggest.
"But it also would have ejected massive amounts of water vapor, sulfur and dust up into the stratosphere," Goff said.
"Earth was already in a gradual cooling phase, so this might have been enough to rapidly accelerate and accentuate the process and kick start the Ice Ages."