High-resolution seismic reflection/refraction images near the outer margin of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, York-James Peninsula, southeastern Virginia

Open-File Report 2001-407

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Powars and Bruce (1999) showed that the Chesapeake Bay region of southeastern Virginia was the site of an asteroid or comet impact during the late Eocene, approximately 35 million years ago (Fig. 1). Initial borehole and marine seismic-reflection data revealed a 90-km-diameter impact structure, referred to as the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater (CBIC), that lies buried beneath the southern Chesapeake Bay and surrounding Virginia Coastal Plain (Powars and Bruce, Figs. 1b).

Stratigraphic correlations among a series of boreholes suggest that the impact disrupted basement rock and the overlying Cretaceous through middle Eocene deltaic and marine sediments. The CBIC truncates important regional sedimentary aquifer systems and possibly caused differential flushing of connate seawater. Therefore, the CBIC affects the present-day ground-water quantity and quality in the rapidly growing Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia. Impact-generated faults in the basement rock may be the sources of small-to-moderate earthquakes that have been occurred around the perimeter of the impact structure over the past few hundred years (Johnson et al., 1998).

Powars and Bruce (1999) suggest that 150 m to 490 m of relatively undisturbed, post-impact Coastal-Plain sediments overlie the impact-disrupted sediments and basement rocks west of Chesapeake Bay. Their interpretation of marine seismic data, released from Texaco and Exxon, revealed a central 38-km-wide, 1.6-km-deep disrupted zone in the basement rocks (inner basin), which is surrounded by a 21- to 31-km-wide, 1- km-deep annular trough. Steep rim escarpments surround these features, which they mapped regionally as the outer and inner margins (rims) of the CBIC (Fig. 1b). The outer margin is a slumped terrace zone that has a 120- to 305-m-high gullied escarpment and varies in width from 0.8 to 3.2 km. However, the geographic bounds of the CBIC, its effects on the regional aquifer systems, and the distribution of impact generated faults and fractures in basement are not well determined. To better determine some of the unknowns associated with the CBIC, we conducted a 350-m-long, high-resolution seismic reflection and refraction survey, referred to here as the CBIC-1 seismic survey, on the York-James Peninsula in June 1999. In particular, we attempted to: better define the outer margin of the CBIC, understand lateral variations in the stratigraphic sequence, help assess potential hazards associated with regional seismicity, and determine acquisition parameters needed for shallow-depth seismic imaging in the Chesapeake Bay area.

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USGS Numbered Series
High-resolution seismic reflection/refraction images near the outer margin of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, York-James Peninsula, southeastern Virginia
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Earthquake Science Center
11 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Chesapeake Bay;York-james Peninsula