This is an ancient and enduring mystery from pre-historic North America, involving geology, astronomy, climatology and zoology. And unravelling this mystery will tell us a great deal about our world, its history, its climate, its vulnerability, and possibly even our future.
This mystery centers on the enigmatic Carolina Bays, which are scattered over not just Carolina, but also Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Kansas and Nebraska. In fact, the latest population survey suggests there are more than 500,000 bays dotted across these states. And readers might be excused for asking "Carolina what?" because they are not exactly well known, despite their pivotal role in the formation of North America. And the reason for these bays flying under the popular education and media radar is that even to this day nobody seems to know what they are.
But I do....
Carolina Bays are elliptical depressions in sandy, sedimentary lands, which range from 50 meters (164 feet) to seven kilometers (four miles) across. And the strange thing about them is that they all have the same outline and they all face in the same direction. But what could make surface features all point in the same direction?
It was proposed by Prof Kaczorowski that they were wind-formed, over hundreds or thousands of years. But the equivalent parallel wind-formed lakes in Alaska are misshapen and all lie on low boggy ground. The Carolina Bays are all perfect clones of each other, and are spread across low and higher ground.
But why anyone would suggest that these enigmatic Carolina Bays were wind formed is perplexing, because these bays have one other very peculiar but telling property - they all point towards the same source location. There are populations of bays in many states, as has already been explained, but all of these different populations point in different directions. And if we trace their various orientations we find that the vast majority of these Bay populations all point to and triangulate upon the center of the Great Lakes region.
In reality, they all point to the west of the Great Lakes region. But in a peculiar fit of academic ineptitude, nobody bothered to adjust this western focus-point for Coriolis effects - the apparent force that bends the flight of projectiles to the right in the northern hemisphere. Coriolis is caused by the spin of the Earth and it effects everything from the flight of military shells to the spiraling motion of hurricanes, which always spin anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere. This gaping chasm in the study of the Carolina Bays was not addressed until about 2010, when Michael Davias recalculated the bay orientations taking into account not only the Coriolis angle-change, but also making a further allowance for the impact drift-angle. Having done so, it would appear that all of the many Bay populations point at the center of the Great Lakes.
This is a very interesting result, for the inescapable conclusion is that these enigmatic bays are likely to be elliptical impact crater-depressions. Not depressions created directly by an incoming comet or meteor shower, as many of the earlier researchers of the Carolina Bays claimed, but depressions formed by much slower secondary projectiles displaced from a primary impact source in the Great Lakes. And the symmetric flanking arrangement, of secondary debris and projectiles on either side of a primary impact, is a known type of crater formation called the low trajectory butterfly impact.
In this particular case, the primary meteor must have entered the atmosphere from the northeast at a low angle and struck the center of the Great Lakes region, resulting in two wings of debris being lifted up either side of the primary impact. But not so much material was displaced to the front or rear of the primary crater, which is why this type of impact is known as a butterfly formation.
Aerial view of Carolina Bays (Public Domain)
The reason why the northwestern wing of this butterfly is missing, is because this region was probably covered by an ice-sheet. So the secondary projectiles in this region merely splashed onto this ice sheet and left no trace on the post glacial surface. The implied presence of an ice-sheet covering Dakota and Canada naturally brings us onto the form and composition of these secondary projectiles, and also to the era of these impacts.
During the many Ice Ages, the Great Lakes region was covered by a two kilometer (1.3 mile) thick ice sheet for nearly two million years. This 'Laurentide' ice sheet covered the Great Lakes region for the majority of this time, barring a few short Interglacial periods, and so it is highly likely that the primary impact was located on this thick ice sheet.
Professor Firestone claimed that the shock wave from this Great Lakes impact created the Carolina Bays. But the suggestion that a transient shockwave and transient wind created these massive surface formations in heavy sedimentary silts and sands is nonsensical. Michael Davias provided a more logical mechanism for bay formation, by claiming that the secondary projectiles were blobs of sands and silts uplifted from the primary impact site. Alternatively, Antonio Zamora claimed the bays were probably made by impacts by large lumps of ice; if a meteor strikes a two kilometer (1.3 mile) thick ice sheet, then the ejecta material must surely comprise blocks of ice. However, I personally do not think that any of these suggestions are correct.
The most likely explanation is that the primary impact thoroughly smashed and crushed the Laurentide ice sheet, before ejecting this crushed ice on a ballistic path down towards Carolina, Georgia and Nebraska—a parabolic sub-orbital lob that would have taken about eight minutes. So the icy secondary projectiles that eventually splattered in two giant butterfly-arcs around the primary impact site, had the consistency of snowballs or slushballs, rather than solid blocks of ice. And being soft and deformable, these ultrasonic slushballs left a distinctive morphology when they landed. They:
- Only left a mark on soft alluvial material, not on harder surfaces.
- Formed shallow depressions rather than craters, leaving the subsurface strata undisturbed.
- Formed directional ellipses.
- Melted away and did not deposit an 'alien' strata of silicates and clays.
Having deciphered the most likely reason for the formation of these enigmatic bays, the next question has to be the all-important, but currently unknown date for this devastating impact-shower. And we can answer this question quite positively if we look more closely at the bay populations. These impact depressions are so plentiful and so widely distributed, that the contemporary flora and fauna must have been extinguished over a vast expanse of North America during this bombardment.
As can be seen in figure 1, above, in many areas the elliptical bays cover the entire landscape, and nothing whatsoever could have survived in those regions. But these are not the only regions that suffered impacts, they are merely the regions where these slushball projectiles were fast enough, large enough, and the surface was soft enough for them to leave an enduring mark on the landscape. So the target region for this ejecta may have been much more extensive than the existing bay record suggests.
Another peril would have been the searing surface temperatures generated before these slushballs struck. The air on the leading edge of an ultrasonic slushball entering the atmosphere at a 'leisurely' mach-7, would be heated to about 3,000ºc —boiling off layer after layer of icy material, just like the ablative heat-shield on an old-fashioned Apollo reentry capsule. And while a single fiery reentry vehicle is not going to effect the atmosphere or ground very much, a million projectiles flying in tight formation may well do so. The radiated heat from such a fiery formation may have been lethal to all flora and fauna in itself. So this was a classical trial by fire and ice. Any animals caught on the surface during such a dense aerial bombardment would have been instantly extinguished, either by fire, superheated steam, flying debris, deadly shock-waves or being encased in ice. This would have been like a World War I fusillade on the fields of Flanders, but multiplied a million-fold. Nothing would have survived. Not a tree, a bush, nor a blade of grass would have been left standing, across the entire eastern half of North America.
And this instantaneous catastrophe is not even beginning to consider the wider climatic response to such a large primary impact. It has been calculated by Michael Davias that the secondary slushballs reached up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) above the Earth, during their sub-orbital flight down towards their butterfly target areas. But while most of the slushballs had enough mass to reenter the atmosphere, a large proportion of them would have vaporized and stayed aloft as ice crystals and water vapor, and blanketed the atmosphere with a fine fog of icy particles. Such a dense layer in the high stratosphere and even mesosphere would have had a significant cooling effect on world climate. Modern climatologists try to scare us with 'tipping-points' and 'runaway events' after every insignificant hurricane or paltry snowstorm. But this really was a tipping point, with perhaps tens or hundreds of years of significantly reduced insolation to warm the surface, and a rapid descent into another Ice Age.
But if this is true, then the Carolina Bay impacts must be coincident with a mass extinction of fauna, especially in North America, and also coincident with a major change in the climate of the northern hemisphere. And the only mass extinction and dramatic climatic event that would match these dual criteria within the last million years or more is the great Pleistocene extinction at the beginning of the Younger Dryas period some 12,900 years ago. And so the primary and secondary impacts that created the Carolina Bays must have happened 12,900 years ago, because this is an era that is coincident with:
- The mass extinction of all American megafauna.
- The extinction of Clovis Man.
- The extinction of other megafauna across the northern hemisphere.
- A significant and enduring cooling of the climate - the Younger Dryas.