Pleistocene organic matter modified by the Hiawatha impact, northwest Greenland

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The 31-km-wide Hiawatha impact crater was recently discovered under the ice sheet in northwest Greenland, but its age remains uncertain. Here we investigate solid organic matter found at the tip of the Hiawatha Glacier to determine its thermal degradation, provenance, and age, and hence a maximum age of the impact. Impactite grains of microbrecchia and shock-melted glass in glaciofluvial sand contain abundant dispersed carbon, and gravel-sized charcoal particles are common on the outwash plain in front of the crater. The organic matter is depleted in the thermally sensitive, labile bio-macromolecule protohydrocarbons. Pebble-sized lumps of lignite collected close to the sand sample consist largely of fragments of conifers such as Pinus or Picea, with greatly expanded cork cells and desiccation cracks which suggest rapid, heat-induced expansion and contraction. Pinus and Picea are today extinct from North Greenland but are known from late Pliocene deposits in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and early Pleistocene deposits at Kap Kobenhavn in eastern North Greenland. The thermally degraded organic material yields a maximum age for the impact, providing the first firm evidence that the Hiawatha crater is the youngest known large impact structure on Earth.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGeology
Volume48
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)867-871
Number of pages5
ISSN0091-7613
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020

ID: 248774543