Three ancient impact craters (Chesapeake Bay - 35.7 Ma; Toms Canyon - 35.7 Ma; Montagnais - 51 Ma) and one multiring impact basin (Chicxulub - 65 Ma) are currently known to be buried beneath modern continental shelves. All occur on the passive Atlantic margin of North America in regions extensively explored by seismic reflection surveys in the search for oil and gas reserves. We limit our discussion herein to the three youngest structures. These craters were created by submarine impacts, which produced many structural and morphological features similar in construction, composition, and variability to those documented in well-preserved subaerial and planetary impact craters. The subcircular Chesapeake Bay (diameter 85 km) and ovate Montagnais (diameter 45-50 km) structures display outer-rim scarps, annular troughs, peak rings, inner basins, and central peaks similar to those incorporated in the widely cited conceptual model of complex impact craters. These craters differ in several respects from the model, however. For example, the Montagnais crater lacks a raised lip on the outer rim, the Chesapeake Bay crater displays only small remnants of a raised lip, and both craters contain an unusually thick body of impact breccia. The subtriangular Toms Canyon crater (diameter 20-22 km), on the other hand, contains none of the internal features of a complex crater, nor is it typical of a simple crater. It displays a prominent raised lip on the outer rim, but the lip is present only on the western side of the crater. In addition, each of these craters contains some distinct features, which are not present in one or both of the others. For example, the central peak at Montagnais rises well above the elevation of the outer rim, whereas at Chesapeake Bay, the outer rim is higher than the central peak. The floor of the Toms Canyon crater is marked by parallel deep troughs and linear ridges formed of sedimentary rocks, whereas at Chesapeake Bay, the crater floor contains concentric faults and compression ridges formed in rocks of the crystalline basement. The Chesapeake Bay crater is distinguished further by its cluster of at least 23 adjacent secondary craters. The North American tektite strewn field, a widespread deposit of distal ejecta, is thought to be derived from the Chesapeake Bay impact, perhaps with a small contribution from the Toms Canyon impact. No ejecta field is known to be associated with the Montagnais impact. No immediate major extinction event is directly linked to any of these three impacts. There is evidence, however, that the Chesapeake Bay and Toms Canyon impacts helped initiate a long-term pulse of warm global climate, whose eventual dissipation coincided with an early Oligocene mass extinction event, 2 Ma after the impacts.
Additional Publication Details
Ancient impact structures on modern continental shelves: The Chesapeake Bay, Montagnais, and Toms Canyon craters, Atlantic margin of North America
Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography