Impacts and the Early Earth

Volume 91 of the series Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences pp 249-277


Deeply exhumed impact structures: A case study of the Vredefort structure, South Africa

  • R. L. GibsonAffiliated withDepartment of Geology, University of the Witwatersrand
  • , W. U. ReimoldAffiliated withDepartment of Geology, University of the Witwatersrand

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The main evidence in the Vredefort Dome and surrounding parts of the Witwatersrand Basin is presented, which indicates that this terrain represents the deeply exhumed root zone of a large, 2023 ± 4 Ma, complex impact structure. Shock metamorphic features such as impact melt, shatter cones, high-pressure quartz polymorphs and shock microdeformation features are restricted to the Vredefort Dome, which constitutes the central uplift of the impact structure. High strain rate brittle deformation features, including pseudotachylites and clastic breccias, are found over a larger radial distance of at least 100 km from the center of the structure. Low-temperature (∼300 °C) hydrothermal effects occur up to a similar radial distance but, in the central uplift, metamorphic mineral parageneses overprinting the shock and brittle deformation features in pelites indicate a strong radially-inward increase in temperature to between 700 and 900 °C. Pressure estimates of 0.2–0.3 GPa obtained from these mineral parageneses indicate that the Vredefort structure has been eroded by between 7 and 10 km. The original depth of burial of these rocks after the impact and their elevated temperatures explain the anomalous appearance and restricted distribution of many of the shock features compared to other, less eroded, structures. The metamorphism and hydrothermal activity are attributed to the combined effects of exhumation of deep (hot) crustal levels by the cratering event and formation of the central uplift, and shock heating, possibly with a minor component of heating caused by an overlying impact melt volume. The structural, shock and thermal impact-related features in the Vredefort Dome and Witwatersrand Basin provide a case study that should assist in the identification of other deeply exhumed impact structures.