Geophysical and structural analyses of the Middlesboro impact structure, Kentucky, USA: Reactivation of a thrust detachment of the Appalachian foreland fold-and-thrust beltOPEN ACCESS 

Lars Wihanto, Thomas Kenkmann

Version of Record online: 23 November 2023


“This paper reports on the Middlesboro impact structure (36°37′03″ N; 83°43′39″ W), a complex impact structure located in the Appalachian foreland fold-and-thrust belt of southeast Kentucky, USA. The structure forms a basin approximately 5.5 km in diameter exposing intensely deformed Pennsylvanian sediments. Based on field data, microstructural observation, and geophysical analyses we qualitatively assess degree and distribution of fragmentation of target rocks within the impact structure. Shock deformation features, especially feather features, are reported for the impact structure. Shallow seismic refraction data were acquired along a radial profile from outside the impact structure to the center of the structure. Seismic (P-wave) velocity trends indicate that fracture intensity increases toward the center, reducing the overall seismic velocity. However, intense rock sealing in some parts of the central uplift increases the strength of rock samples and locally increases seismic velocities. We present a modified geologic map of the Middlesboro impact structure based on high-resolution lineament analysis, field work, and reevaluation of existing structural data from geologic maps. The modified map suggests that crater circularity at Middlesboro is skewed by the reactivation of pre-existing zones of structural anisotropy in the target. We propose that due to an oblique impact from northerly direction the sub-horizontal Pine Mountain thrust plane beneath the impact structure became reactivated with a top-to-the south shear component. The impact-induced formation/reactivation of the Doublings Fault Zone as a thrust ramp appears to have deflected the otherwise straight strike of the Cumberland Mountains southward. The Rocky Face fault approaches the crater rim fault, and we propose that this sinistral strike-slip fault was formed, or at least reactivated, by the impact and accommodated the oblique impact’s horizontal momentum.”