Thermal History of the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater
Harvey, Samuel Vernon
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Anomalously high groundwater salinities exist within the syn-impact sediment of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, including an unexplained brine. This brine may be the result of phase-separation of seawater that occurred within the syn-impact sediments as underlying deformed and possibly melted basement rock cooled following impact. The 85 km wide crater has been described as a complex peak-ring crater; created 35.8 million years ago in the then submerged unconsolidated sediments of the Atlantic Coastal Plain and now completely buried by post-impact sediments. An annular trough with relatively undisturbed basement surrounds a ~38 km diameter inner basin with a peak ring and central uplift. The basement surface within the inner basin was modified by the impact and is projected to be approximately 1.6 km below sea level. Geothermometry and advective and conductive heat flow modeling was performed to characterize a possible post-impact hydrothermal system. Thermal maturity and radiogenic techniques were used to estimate the temperature history of the crater sediments. Core samples from one borehole just outside the crater, two within the annular trough, and one shallow borehole within the inner basin were examined. Numerical heat and fluid flow models were developed using a range of likely sediment parameters and basal heat flow values to determine if phase-separation temperatures were likely to have occurred, and to evaluate what affect, if any, lithostatic overpressures may have had on post-impact cooling. Geothermometry results indicate that no detectable thermal anomaly exists within the syn or post-impact sediments at these boreholes; however, no data are available within the deep inner basin where temperatures were likely to have been higher. Samples from existing boreholes suggest that sediment are organically immature and likely were never heated above ~40°C for a geologically significant period of time. These results support apatite He (U/Th) and previously published apatite fission track radiogenic ages indicating no Cenozoic resetting. Heat flow simulations indicate that a high temperature (>400°C) hydrothermal system could have existed within the inner basin and not caused any measurable effect on thermal maturity in the annular trough and shallow portion of the inner basin. Results also indicate that phase-separation could have occurred in the syn-impact sediments using reasonable estimates of basal heat flow, permeability, thermal conductivity, and porosity values, and that overpressures resulting from rapid deposition of syn-impact sediments dissipate within a few thousand years and are not an important heat transport mechanism.
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