1.85-Billion-Year-Old Meteorite Impact Triggered Massive Volcanic Eruptions

The Sudbury impactor appears to have burst several magma chambers deep below the surface. Allen G/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 04 May 2017, 10:38

Asteroid, comet or meteorite impacts are nothing less than titanic game-changers. The collision that brought the curtains down on the age of the dinosaurs, for example, created tidal waves of fluidized rock 2.5 times the height of Everest, and it even managed to forge brand new fault lines all through North America as the crust around the crater cracked, like dropping a bowling ball on a frozen lake.

An impact on Mars a few billion years ago looks likely to have caused continent-sized megatsunamis that washed from the northern hemisphere of the Red Planet all the way to the southern one. Clearly, if the impact is powerful enough, incredible things can happen – and a new study suggests a meteorite smashing into what is now Canada set off a series of volcanic eruptions.

“The effect of large impacts on the early Earth could be more serious than previously considered,” coordinating author Balz Kamber, a professor of geology and mineralogy at Trinity College Dublin, said in a statement. “The intense bombardment of the early Earth may have brought up material from the planet’s interior, which shaped the overall structure of the planet.”

This story involves the Sudbury Crater, one of the oldest and best-preserved impact bowls on Earth. Located in Ontario, it’s a 1.85-billion-year-old depression 250 kilometers (160 miles) across, which is far larger than the far more famous Chicxulub crater.

Can you spot the oval-shaped Sudbury Crater? Landsat 7/NASA

Back then, the continents were arranged into a single cohesive one named “Nuna”. This supercontinent eventually found itself on the business end of an impactor from deep space that was about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) across. The subsequent violence spread debris across an area of 1.6 million square kilometers (620,000 square miles) – about the area of California – at supersonic speeds.

Devastation-wise, it was a lot more destructive than the impact that landed on the heads of the Tyrannosaurs. It’s not surprising, then, that this new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets concludes that it set off a chain of volcanoes too by compressing their magma chambers to bursting point.

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