Exploring the KT source crater: Progress and future prospects



It has been 15 years since an iridium-enriched clay layer at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) boundary was discovered, providing the first hard evidence linking the most recent mass extinction event to a comet or asteroid strike [Alvarez et al., 1980]. Now it is widely accepted that the site of this collision is on the Yucatan platform, centered near Progreso, Mexico. The 200–300-km-wide crater lies buried beneath 300–1000 m of limestone laid down in the intervening 65 million years, and few clues of its presence remain at the surface, save an arcuate arrangement of water-filled sinkholes centered approximately on the structure (Figure 1). Yet prominent circular anomalies in gravity and magnetic anomaly maps gained the interest of Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), and in the early 1950s they began an exploration campaign that included deep drilling to recover samples of the subsurface rocks. The buried feature became known as the Chicxulub structure. Pemex drilling continued throughout the early 1970s and by that time, three wells near the center had recovered silicate rocks with igneous textures, initially mistaken for volcanic rocks. Other wells, located between 130 km and 210 km from ground zero recovered breccia deposits hundreds of meters thick that showed evidence of catastropic or explosive conditions. By 1980, Antonio Camargo, a geophysicist at Pemex, felt the evidence pointed to impact, although a volcanic origin for the Chicxulub structure could not be ruled out.