The evolution of impact basins: Cooling, subsidence, and thermal stress


  • Steven R. Bratt,

  • Sean C. Solomon,

  • James W. Head


Potentially important contributors to the topography and tectonics of multi-ring impact basins are the thermal contraction and thermal stress that accompany the loss of heat emplaced during basin formation. Heat converted from impact kinetic energy and contributed from the uplift of isotherms during cavity collapse are important components in the energy budget of a newly-formed basin. That the subsequent cooling may have been an important factor in the tectonic evolution of the Orientale basin is suggested by the deep central depression and by a surrounding region of extensive fissuring. To test these concepts, we develop models for the anomalous temperature distribution immediately following basin formation, and we calculate the resulting elastic displacement and stress fields that then would accompany cooling of the basin region. All models predict subsidence of the basin floor and a near-surface stress field consistent with fissuring. In addition, the rates of cooling and of accumulation of thermal stress are in agreement with the inferred timing of fissure formation in Orientale. The sensitivity of the predicted displacements and stresses to the initial temperature field allows us to place bounds on the quantity and distribution of impact heat emplaced during basin formation. In order to be consistent with the observed topography and the distribution of fissures in the Orientale basin, the buried heat deposited during the basin-forming event was between 1032 and 1033 erg. It is likely that most of this heat was concentrated within a distance of 100–200 km from the point of impact.