Zircon microstructures in large, deeply eroded impact structures and terrestrial seismites

A.A. Garde, L. Johansson, N. Keulen, A. Schreiber, R. Wirth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Extraterrestrial cratering was a critical component in the evolution of the early Earth, but discovery of very ancient and deeply exhumed impact structures remains elusive, as identification tools are in short supply. The recognition of such structures is hindered by post-cratering geological processes, whereby impact-induced features common in younger, upper-crustal craters may be lost. In this study, we make a detailed analysis of planar microstructures in zircons from four large,confirmed impact structures (Manicouagan, Rochechouart, Sudbury, Vredefort) preserved at different crustal levels, from two previously described non-impact seismites in SW Norway and northern Italy, and from the 3.0 Ga Maniitsoq structure in West Greenland. A total of ?3400 zircon grains were studied using exterior and interior scanning and transmission electron microscopy. We show for the first time that shocked zircons contain two successive, principally different types of planar microstructures, only one of which is diagnostic of impact. Closely spaced, contiguous microplanes (CP) are formed first, presumably by the shock wave. In Manicouagan and Rochechouart zircons the exterior CPs have ultrathin interior counterparts of straight dislocation arrays, as identified in Manicouagan zircon using transmission electron microscopy. They have the same close spacing and orientations as the exterior CPs and are abundantly decorated with tiny pores down to less than 50 nm across. These interior CPs are identical to shock-induced decorated, partly annealed amorphous planar microstructures in quartz (planar deformation features, PDFs) and are interpreted as such. The second type is open planar fractures (PF). They are widely and irregularly spaced and texturally younger than the CPs. They re-use and displace the CP orientations, which they cut in stepwise fashion. We interpret these PFs as formed by impact-induced seismic shaking in the wake of the shock wave. We confirm two previous reports of isolated planar fractures in zircons from non-impact seismites, showing that PFs per se are not impact-diagnostic. There are no CPs in any of these zircons. Zircons from different parts of the Maniitsoq structure contain CPs in various states of preservation besides PFs, corroborating that this very large and very deeply exhumed structure resulted from an extraterrestrial impact.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberegad079
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Petrology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • annealing
  • impact cratering
  • lower crust
  • Maniitsoq structure
  • PDF
  • planar microstructures
  • zircon

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 4: Mineral Resources


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