The recognition of terrestrial impact structures


Authors: Therriault AM, Grieve RAF, Pilkington M

Published in: Bulletin of Geosciences, volume 77, issue 4; pages: 253 - 263; Received 3 October 2002; Accepted in revised form 7 November 2002;

Keywords: Earth, impact structures, shock metamorphism, melting, glasses, shatter cones, geophysical anomaly,

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The Earth is the most endogenically active of the terrestrial planets and, thus, has retained the poorest sample of impacts that have occurred throughout geological time. The current known sample consists of approximately 160 impact structures or crater fields. Approximately 30% of known impact structures are buried and were initially detected as geophysical anomalies and subsequently drilled to provide geologic samples. The recognition of terrestrial impact structures may, or may not, come from the discovery of an anomalous quasi-circular topographic, geologic or geophysical feature. In the geologically active terrestrial environment, anomalous quasi-circular features, however, do not automatically equate with an impact origin. Specific samples must be acquired and the occurrence of shock metamorphism, or, in the case of small craters, meteoritic fragments, must be demonstrated before an impact origin can be confirmed. Shock metamorphism is defined by a progressive destruction of the original rock and mineral structure with increasing shock pressure. Peak shock pressures and temperatures produced by an impact event may reach several hundreds of gigaPascals and several thousand degrees Kelvin, which are far outside the range of endogenic metamorphism. In addition, the application of shockwave pressures is both sudden and brief. Shock metamorphic effects result from high strain rates, well above the rates of normal tectonic processes. The well-characterized and documented shock effects in quartz are unequivocal indicators and are the most frequently used indicator for terrestrial impact structures and lithologies.