The University of Arizona

Australasian microtektites and associated impact ejecta in the South China Sea and the Middle Pleistocene supereruption of Toba

Billy P. Glass, Christian Koeberl

Abstract


Australasian microtektites were discovered in Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Hole 1143A in the central part of the South China Sea. Unmelted ejecta were found associated with the microtektites at this site and with Australasian microtektites in Core SO95-17957-2 and ODP Hole 1144A from the central and northern part of the South China Sea, respectively. A few opaque, irregular, rounded, partly melted particles containing highly fractured mineral inclusions (generally quartz and some K feldspar) and some partially melted mineral grains, in a glassy matrix were also found in the microtektite layer. The unmelted ejecta at all three sites include abundant white, opaque grains consisting of mixtures of quartz, coesite, and stishovite, and abundant rock fragments which also contain coesite and, rarely, stishovite. This is the first time that shock-metamorphosed rock fragments have been found in the Australasian microtektite layer. The rock fragments have major and trace element contents similar to the Australasian microtektites and tektites, except for higher volatile element contents. Assuming that the Australasian tektites and microtektites were formed from the same target material as the rock fragments, the parent material for the Australasian tektites and microtektites appears to have been a fine-grained sedimentary deposit. Hole 1144A has the highest abundance of microtektites (number/cm^2) of any known Australasian microtektite-bearing site and may be closer to the source crater than any previously identified Australasian microtektite-bearing site. A source crater in the vicinity of 22° N and 10° E seems to explain geographic variations in abundance of both the microtektites and the unmelted ejecta the best; however, a region extending NW into southern China and SE into the Gulf of Tonkin explains the geographic variation in abundance of microtektites and unmelted ejecta almost as well. The size of the source crater is estimated to be 43 ± 9 km based on estimated thickness of the ejecta layer at each site and distance from the proposed source. A volcanic ash layer occurs just above the Australasian microtektite layer, which some authors suggest is from a supereruption of the Toba caldera complex. We estimate that deposition of the ash occurred 800 ka ago and that it is spread over an area of at least 3.7 x  10^7 km^2.

Keywords


Impact ejecta;Australasian Strewn field;Shock metamorphsim;Microtektites

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