Encyclopedia of Geobiology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Joachim Reitner, Volker Thiel

Asteroid and Comet Impacts

  • Charles S. Cockell
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9212-1_117


The impact of an extraterrestrial object (either an asteroid or comet) with the Earth’s surface.


There are now over 170 asteroid and comet impact craters that have been identified on the surface of the Earth (Table 1). These craters represent a small subset of the total impacts that have occurred during the history of life. Today, impact craters probably represent something on the order of 50,000 km 2of Earth’s surface. Although this is a small habitat area, impacts are the only extraterrestrial mechanism capable of causing localized ecological disturbance. Because impacts are a mechanism capable of delivering a pulse of energy into ecosystems, from a geobiological point of view they present an important addition to the overall picture of how ecosystems are disturbed and how they recover through time. Comparison to other processes involving ecological disturbance and recovery including volcanism, glaciation/deglaciation, storm damage, fire, landslides, and...


Impact Event Impact Crater Shock Pressure Thermal Pulse Pore Collapse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Ashton, P. J., and Schoeman, F. R., 1983. Limnological studies on the Pretoria Salt Pan, a hypersaline maar lake. 1. Morphometric, physical and chemical features. Hydrobiologia, 99, 61–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cockell, C. S., and Lee, P., 2002. The biology of impact craters – a review. Biological Reviews, 77, 279–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cockell, C. S., Lee, P., Schuerger, A., Hidalgo, L., Jones, J., and Stokes, D., 2001. Microbiology and vegetation of micro-oases and polar desert, Haughton impact crater, Devon Island, Canadian High Arctic. Arctic, Alpine and Antarctic Research, 33, 306–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cockell, C. S., Lee, P., Osinski, G., Horneck, G., and Broady, P., 2002. Impact-induced microbial endolithic habitats. Meteoritics and Planetary Science, 37, 1287–1298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cockell, C. S., Lee, P., Broady, P., Lim, D. S. S., Osinski, G. R., Parnell, J., Koeberl, C., Pesonen, L., and Salminen, J., 2005. Effects of asteroid and comet impacts on habitats for lithophytic organisms – a synthesis. Meteoritics and Planetary Science, 40, 1901–1914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cockell, C. S., Kennerley, N., Lindstrom, M., Watson, J., Ragnarsdottir, V., Sturkell, E., Ott, S., and Tindle, A. G., 2007. Geomicrobiology of a weathering crust from an impact crater and a hypothesis for its formation. Geomicrobiology Journal, 24, 425–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cremer, H., and Wagner, B., 2003. The diatom flora in the ultra-oligotrophic Lake El’gygytgyn, Chukotka. Polar Biology, 26, 105–114.Google Scholar
  8. Gohn, G., Koeberl, C., Miller, K. G., Reimold, U., Browning, J. C., Cockell, C. S., Horton, J. W., Kenkman, T., Kulpecz, A. A., Powars, D. S., Sanford, W. E., and Voytek, M. A., 2008. Deep drilling into the Chesapeake Bay impact structure. Science, 320, 1740–1745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gronlund, T., Lortie, G., Guilbault, J. P., Bouchard, M. A., and Saanisto, M., 1990. Diatoms and arcellaceans from lac du Cratere du Nouveau-Quebec, Ungava, Quebec, Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany, 68, 1187–1200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kieffer, S. W., 1971. Shock metamorphism of the Coconino sandstone at Meteor crater, Arizona. Journal of Geophysical Research, 76, 5449–5473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Leroux, H., 2005. Weathering features in shocked quartz from the Ries impact crater: Germany. Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, 40, 1347–1352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Melosh, H. J., 1989. Impact Cratering: A Geologic Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Osinski, G. R., Spray, J. G., and Lee, P., 2001. Impact-induced hydrothermal activity within the Haughton impact structure: generation of a transient, warm, wet oasis. Meteoritics and Planetary Science, 36, 731–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Parnell, J., Lee, P., Cockell, C. S., and Osinski, G. R., 2004. Microbial colonization in impact-generated hydrothermal sulphate deposits, Haughton impact structure, and implications for sulphates on Mars. International Journal of Astrobiology, 3, 247–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Schoeman, F. R., and Ashton, P. J., 1982. The diatom flora of the Pretoria Salt Pan, Transvaal, Republic of South Africa. Bacillaria, 5, 63–99.Google Scholar
  16. Smelror, M., Dypvik, H., and Mørk, A., 2002. Phytoplankton blooms in the Jurassic-cretaceous boundary beds of the Barents Sea possibly induced by the Mjølnir impact. In Buffetaut, E., and Koeberl, C. (eds.), Geological and Biological Effects of Impact Events. New York: Springer-Verlag, pp. 69–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles S. Cockell
    • 1
  1. 1.Planetary and Space Sciences Research InstituteOpen UniversityMilton KeynesUK