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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


One or more bolide impacts are hypothesized to have triggered the Younger Dryas cooling at ∼12.9 ka. In support of this hypothesis, varying peak abundances of magnetic grains with iridium and magnetic microspherules have been reported at the Younger Dryas boundary (YDB). We show that bulk sediment and/or magnetic grains/microspherules collected from the YDB sites in Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Ohio have (187)Os/(188)Os ratios ≥1.0, similar to average upper continental crust (= 1.3), indicating a terrestrial origin of osmium (Os) in these samples. In contrast, bulk sediments from YDB sites in Belgium and Pennsylvania exhibit (187)Os/(188)Os ratios <<1.0 and at face value suggest mixing with extraterrestrial Os with (187)Os/(188)Os of ∼0.13. However, the Os concentration in bulk sample and magnetic grains from Belgium is 2.8 pg/g and 15 pg/g, respectively, much lower than that in average upper continental crust (=31 pg/g), indicating no meteoritic contribution. The YDB site in Pennsylvania is remarkable in yielding 2- to 5-mm diameter spherules containing minerals such as suessite (Fe-Ni silicide) that form at temperatures in excess of 2000 °C. Gross texture, mineralogy, and age of the spherules appear consistent with their formation as ejecta from an impact 12.9 ka ago. The (187)Os/(188)Os ratios of the spherules and their leachates are often low, but Os in these objects is likely terrestrially derived. The rare earth element patterns and Sr and Nd isotopes of the spherules indicate that their source lies in 1.5-Ga Quebecia terrain in the Grenville Province of northeastern North America.