Effect of ice sheet thickness on formation of the Hiawatha impact crater

Elizabeth A. Silber, Brandon C.Johnson, Evan Bjonnes, Joseph A. MacGregor, Nicolaj K.Larsen, Sean E. Wiggins

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 566, 15 July 2021



• Hiawatha is a 31 km wide putative impact crater found below the Greenland Ice Sheet.
• The impact should produce a trace of distal rocky ejecta in drill core samples.
• iSALE hydrocode used to study the crater morphology and emplacement of rocky ejecta.
• The presence of an ice sheet inhibits ejection of rocky material.
• The putative Hiawatha crater likely formed in the last 2.6 Myr.”

“The discovery of a large putative impact crater buried beneath Hiawatha Glacier along the margin of the northwestern Greenland Ice Sheet has reinvigorated interest into the nature of large impacts into thick ice masses. This circular structure is relatively shallow and exhibits a small central uplift, whereas a peak-ring morphology is expected. This discrepancy may be due to long-term and ongoing subglacial erosion but may also be explained by a relatively recent impact through the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is expected to alter the final crater morphology. Here we model crater formation using hydrocode simulations, varying pre-impact ice thickness and impactor composition over crystalline target rock. We find that an ice-sheet thickness of 1.5 or 2 km results in a crater morphology that is consistent with the present morphology of this structure. Further, an ice sheet that thick substantially inhibits ejection of rocky material, which might explain the absence of rocky ejecta in most existing Greenland deep ice cores if the impact occurred during the late Pleistocene. From the present morphology of the putative Hiawatha impact crater alone, we cannot distinguish between an older crater formed by a pre-Pleistocene impact into ice-free bedrock or a younger, Pleistocene impact into locally thick ice, but based on our modeling we conclude that latter scenario is possible.”