An analysis of differential impact melt-crater scaling and implications for the terrestrial impact record



Abstract— It has been known for some time that the volume of impact melt (Vm) relative to that of the transient cavity (Vtc) increases with the magnitude of the impact event. This paper investigates the influence that this phenomenon has on the nature of terrestrial impact craters. A model of impact melting is used to estimate the volume of melt produced during the impact of chondritic projectiles into granite targets at velocities of 15, 25, and 50 km S−1. The dimensions of transient cavities formed under the same impact conditions are calculated from current crater-scaling relationships, which are derived from dimensional analysis of data from cratering experiments. Observed melt volumes at terrestrial craters are collated from the literature and are paired with the transient-cavity diameters (Dtc) of their respective craters; these diameters were determined through an established empirical relationship. The model and observed melt volumes have very similar trends with increasing transient-cavity diameter. This Vm-Dtc relationship is then used to make predictions regarding the nature of the terrestrial cratering record. In particular, with increasing size of the impact event, the depth of melting approaches the depth of the transient cavity. As a consequence, the base of the cavity, which ultimately would appear as an uplifted central structure in a complex crater, will record shock stresses that will increase up to a maximum of partial melting. Examination of the terrestrial record indicates a general trend for higher recorded shock levels in central structures at larger diameters; impact structures in the 100-km size range record partially melted and vesiculated parautochthonous target rocks in their centers. In addition, as the depth of melting approaches a depth equivalent to that attained by the base of the transient cavity, the floor of the transient cavity will have progressively less strength, with the result that cavity modification and uplift will not produce topographic central peaks. Again, the observed terrestrial record is not inconsistent with this prediction, and we offer differential melt scaling as a possible mechanism for the transition from central topographic peaks to rings with increasing crater diameter. Among other implications is the likelihood that impact basins in the 1000-km size range on the early Earth would not have the same multi-ring form as observed on the moon.