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Studies of the Chesapeake Bay impact structure - Introduction and discussion

Geological Survey Professional Paper (United States)
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Abstract

The late Eocene Chesapeake Bay impact structure on the Atlantic margin of Virginia is the largest known impact crater in the United States, and it may be the Earth's best preserved example of a large impact crater that formed on a predominantly siliciclastic continental shelf. The 85-kilometer-wide (53-milewide) crater also coincides with a region of saline ground water. It has a profound influence on ground-water quality and flow in an area of urban growth. The USGS-NASA Langley corehole at Hampton, Va., is the first in a series of new coreholes being drilled in the crater, and it is the first corehole to penetrate the entire crater-fill section and uppermost crystalline basement rock. The Langley corehole is located in the southwestern part of the crater's annular trough. A comprehensive effort to understand the crater's materials, architecture, geologic history, and formative processes, as well as its influence on ground water, includes the drilling of coreholes accompanied by high-resolution seismic-reflection and seismic-refraction surveys, audio-magnetotelluric surveys, and related multidisciplinary research. The studies of the core presented in this volume provide detailed information on the outer part of the crater, including the crystalline basement, the overlying impact-modified and impact-generated sediments (physical geology, paleontology, shocked minerals, and crystalline ejecta), and the upper Eocene to Quaternary postimpact sedimentary section (stratigraphy, paleontology, and paleoenvironments). The USGS-NASA Langley corehole has a total depth below land surface of 635.1 meters (m; 2,083.8 feet (ft)). The deepest unit in the corehole is the Neoproterozoic Langley Granite. The top of this granite at 626.3 m (2,054.7 ft) depth is overlain by 390.6 m (1,281.6 ft) of impact-modified and impact-generated siliciclastic sediments. These crater-fill materials are preserved beneath a 235.6-m-thick (773.12-ft-thick) blanket of postimpact sediments. A high-resolution seismic-reflection and seismic-refraction profile that crosses the Langley drill site is tied to the core by borehole geophysical logs, and it reveals the details of extensional collapse structures in the western annular trough. Electrical cross sections based on audio-magnetotelluric (AMT) soundings image a nearly vertical zone of high resistivity at the outer margin of the annular trough, possibly indicating fresh ground water at that location, and they show impedance trends that match the curvature of the structure. They also image the subsurface contact between conductive sediments and resistive crystalline basement, showing that the depth to crystalline basement is relatively constant in the western part of the annular trough. Chemical and isotopic data indicate that saline ground water of the Virginia inland saltwater wedge or bulge is a mixture of freshwater and seawater, and evidence for a mixing zone at the crater's outer margin supports the concept of differential flushing of residual seawater to create the bulge. Ground-water brine in the central part of the crater was produced by evaporation, and brine production from the heat of the impact is at least theoretically possible.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Studies of the Chesapeake Bay impact structure - Introduction and discussion
Series title Geological Survey Professional Paper (United States)
Volume 1688
Issue A
Year Published 2006
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Description 22 p.
First page 2
Last page 23
Country United States
Other Geospatial Chesapeake Bay
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