The University of Arizona

The importance of being cratered: The new role of meteorite impact as a normal geological process



This paper is a personal (and, in many ways, incomplete) view of the past development of impact geology and of the newly recognized importance of impact events in terrestrial geological history. It also identifies some exciting scientific challenges for future investigators: to determine the full range of impact effects preserved on the Earth, to apply the knowledge obtained from impact phenomena to more general geological problems, and to continue the merger of the once exotic field of impact geology with mainstream geosciences. Since the recognition of an impact event at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary, much current activity in impact geology has been promoted by traditionally trained geoscientists who have unexpectedly encountered impact effects in the course of their work. Their studies have involved: 1) the recognition of additional major impact effects in the geological record (the Chesapeake Bay crater, the Alamo breccia, and multiple layers of impact spherules in Precambrian rocks); and 2) the use of impact structures as laboratories to study general geological processes (e.g., igneous petrogenesis at Sudbury, Canada and Archean crustal evolution at Vredefort, South Africa). Other research areas, in which impact studies could contribute to major geoscience problems in the future, include: 1) comparative studies between low-level (≤7 GPa) shock deformation of quartz, and the production of quartz cleavage, in both impact and tectonic environments; and 2) the nature, origin, and significance of bulk organic carbon (kerogen) and other carbon species in some impact structures (Gardnos, Norway, and Sudbury, Canada).


Terrestrial impact craters;Sudbury crater;Rock Elm crater

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