Potassium elemental and isotope constraints on the formation of tektites and element loss during impacts

Tomáš Magna, Yun Jiang, Roman Skála, Kun Wang, Paolo A.Sossi, Karel Žák

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Available online 28 July 2021


“Potassium elemental and isotope systematics were investigated for a suite of central European tektites from three strewn sub-fields in Czech Republic and possible parent sedimentary materials from the vicinity of the Ries impact structure in SE Germany, supplemented by data for several other impact-related materials (bediasites, Ivory Coast tektites, Libyan Desert Glass). This is paralleled by computation of potential K loss and attendant isotope fractionation for physico–chemical conditions typical for formation of tektite precursor melts. These theoretical calculations indicate a <0.1% loss of K from tektite precursor melts up to 2,500K and <0.002‰ change in the 41K/39K ratio even for a small sphere of 0.002 m at 2,500K, precluding any significant K loss and isotope fractionation. Numerical modelling also indicates that differential velocities between surrounding gas and liquid are not sufficient to remove the gaseous boundary layer, such that the partial pressure of potassium developed around the molten moldavite beads impedes further evaporation and also contributes to back-condensation of the already evaporated potassium.

Central European tektites (moldavites) are enriched in K compared to the assumed sedimentary sources from the wider Ries area whereby the latter materials do not exceed 2.9 wt.% K2O compared to 2.5–4.1 wt.% K2O in moldavites. The apparent K enrichment in moldavites may be explained by a yet unaccounted process during formation of tektite precursor melts and/or unidentified source, such as volcanoclastic deposits that were produced by large Mid-Miocene volcanic centers in the Pannonian Basin. The K isotope compositions of tektites are more variable than those of sediments from the wider Ries area but they largely overlap (δ41K from −0.78 ± 0.03‰ to −0.13 ± 0.03‰ versus −0.72 ± 0.03‰ to −0.28 ± 0.02‰, respectively). These ranges mimic 41K/39K variations reported for igneous and sedimentary portions of the upper continental crust (δ41K roughly between −0.7 and −0.1‰). They show a slight difference among the three investigated strewn sub-fields, depending on their respective distance from the impact. In detail, moldavites from the closest strewn sub-field in the Cheb Basin show predominantly heavy K isotope compositions and those from the farthest strewn sub-field in Western Moravia are uniformly isotopically light. The origin of this difference may reflect lithological heterogeneity of the target area.

Potassium contents in bediasites and Ivory Coast tektites range between 1.3 and 1.8 wt.% K2O and their corresponding δ41K values vary from −0.57 ± 0.02‰ to −0.41 ± 0.03‰. Both ranges are significantly narrower than those observed for moldavites. When compared to data for possible sedimentary precursors in the Chesapeake Bay and Bosumtwi impact structure, respectively, it is apparent that these tektites were neither depleted nor enriched in potassium. The extent of their K isotope fractionation relative to plausible sources remains unconstrained. The Libyan Desert Glass displays invariant δ41K of ∼ −0.57 ± 0.06‰ at ≤0.01 wt.% K2O. Given the silica-rich nature of LDG and the lack of possible parent materials, no further constraints can be placed at present to further resolve the source material or reveal details of LDG formation process.”