Empirical and theoretical comparisons of the Chicxulub and Sudbury impact structures

Kevin O. Pope, Susan W. Kieffer, Doreen E. Ames

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chicxulub and Sudbury are 2 of the largest impact structures on Earth. Research at the buried but well-preserved Chicxulub crater in Mexico has identified 6 concentric structural rings. In an analysis of the preserved structural elements in the eroded and tectonically deformed Sudbury structure in Canada, we identified ring-like structures corresponding in both radius and nature to 5 out of the 6 rings at Chicxulub. At Sudbury, the inner topographic peak ring is missing, which if it existed, has been eroded. Reconstructions of the transient cavities for each crater produce the same range of possible diameters: 80-110 km. The close correspondence of structural elements between Chicxulub and Sudbury suggests that these 2 impact structures are approximately the same size, both having a main structural basin diameter of ∼150 km and outer ring diameters of ∼200 km and ∼260 km. This similarity in size and structure allows us to combine information from the 2 structures to assess the production of shock melt (melt produced directly upon decompression from high pressure impact) and impact melt (shock melt and melt derived from the digestion of entrained clasts and erosion of the crater wall) in large impacts. Our empirical comparisons suggest that Sudbury has ∼70% more impact melt than does Chicxulub (∼31,000 versus ∼18,000 km3) and 85% more shock melt (27,000 km3 versus 14,500 km3). To examine possible causes for this difference, we develop an empirical method for estimating the amount of shock melt at each crater and then model the formation of shock melt in both comet and asteroid impacts. We use an analytical model that gives energy scaling of shock melt production in close agreement with more computationally intense numerical models. The results demonstrate that the differences in melt volumes can be readily explained if Chicxulub was an asteroid impact and Sudbury was a comet impact. The estimated 70% difference in melt volumes can be explained by crater size differences only if the extremes in the possible range of melt volumes and crater sizes are invoked. Preheating of the target rocks at Sudbury by the Penokean Orogeny cannot explain the excess melt at Sudbury, the majority of which resides in the suevite. The greater amount of suevite at Sudbury compared to Chicxulub may be due to the dispersal of shock melt by cometary volatiles at Sudbury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-116
Number of pages20
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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