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J Afr Earth Sci. 2014 May;93:57-175.

Impact structures in Africa: A review.

Author information

1
Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, Invalidenstrasse 43, 10115 Berlin, Germany; Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany.
2
Department of Lithospheric Research, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria; Natural History Museum, Burgring 7, A-1010 Vienna, Austria.

Abstract

More than 50 years of space and planetary exploration and concomitant studies of terrestrial impact structures have demonstrated that impact cratering has been a fundamental process - an essential part of planetary evolution - ever since the beginning of accretion and has played a major role in planetary evolution throughout the solar system and beyond. This not only pertains to the development of the planets but to evolution of life as well. The terrestrial impact record represents only a small fraction of the bombardment history that Earth experienced throughout its evolution. While remote sensing investigations of planetary surfaces provide essential information about surface evolution and surface processes, they do not provide the information required for understanding the ultra-high strain rate, high-pressure, and high-temperature impact process. Thus, hands-on investigations of rocks from terrestrial impact craters, shock experimentation for pressure and temperature calibration of impact-related deformation of rocks and minerals, as well as parameter studies pertaining to the physics and chemistry of cratering and ejecta formation and emplacement, and laboratory studies of impact-generated lithologies are mandatory tools. These, together with numerical modeling analysis of impact physics, form the backbone of impact cratering studies. Here, we review the current status of knowledge about impact cratering - and provide a detailed account of the African impact record, which has been expanded vastly since a first overview was published in 1994. No less than 19 confirmed impact structures, and one shatter cone occurrence without related impact crater are now known from Africa. In addition, a number of impact glass, tektite and spherule layer occurrences are known. The 49 sites with proposed, but not yet confirmed, possible impact structures contain at least a considerable number of structures that, from available information, hold the promise to be able to expand the African impact record drastically - provided the political conditions for safe ground-truthing will become available. The fact that 28 structures have also been shown to date NOT to be of impact origin further underpins the strong interest in impact in Africa. We hope that this review stimulates the education of students about impact cratering and the fundamental importance of this process for Earth - both for its biological and geological evolution. This work may provide a reference volume for those workers who would like to search for impact craters and their ejecta in Africa.

KEYWORDS:

Africa; Impact crater record; Impact structures; Projectile identification; Shock metamorphism; Terrestrial impact record

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