Pleistocene organic matter modified by the Hiawatha impact, northwest Greenland

Gernot.Nehrke [ at ]


The 31-km-wide Hiawatha impact crater was recently discovered under the ice sheet in northwest Greenland, but its age remains uncertain. Here we investigate solid organic matter found at the tip of the Hiawatha Glacier to determine its thermal degradation, provenance, and age, and hence a maximum age of the impact. Impactite grains of microbrecchia and shock-melted glass in glaciofluvial sand contain abundant dispersed carbon, and gravel-sized charcoal particles are common on the outwash plain in front of the crater. The organic matter is depleted in the thermally sensitive, labile bio-macromolecule proto-hydrocarbons. Pebble-sized lumps of lignite collected close to the sand sample consist largely of fragments of conifers such as Pinus or Picea, with greatly expanded cork cells and desiccation cracks which suggest rapid, heat-induced expansion and contraction. Pinus and Picea are today extinct from North Greenland but are known from late Pliocene deposits in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and early Pleistocene deposits at Kap København in eastern North Greenland. The thermally degraded organic material yields a maximum age for the impact, providing the first firm evidence that the Hiawatha crater is the youngest known large impact structure on Earth.

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Primary Division
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Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.1130/G47432.1

Cite as
Larsen, N. K. , Kjær, K. H. , Funder, S. , Weikusat, C. , Sanei, H. , Nehrke, G. , Dahl-Møller, J. , Guvad, C. , Søndergaard, A. S. and Garde, A. A. (2020): Pleistocene organic matter modified by the Hiawatha impact, northwest Greenland , Geology, 48 . doi: 10.1130/G47432.1



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