A Possible Second Large Subglacial Impact Crater in Northwest Greenland

MacGregor, J., W. F. Bottke, M. Fahnestock, J. P. Harbeck, K. H. Kjær, J. D. Paden, D. E. Stillman, and M. Studinger (2019), A Possible Second Large Subglacial Impact Crater in Northwest Greenland, Geophys. Res. Lett., 46, 1496-1504, doi:10.1029/2018GL078126.

Following the discovery of the Hiawatha impact crater beneath the northwest margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet, we explored satellite and aerogeophysical data in search of additional such craters. Here we report the discovery of a possible second subglacial impact crater that is 36.5-km wide and 183 km southeast of the Hiawatha impact crater. Although buried by 2 km of ice, the structure’s rim induces a conspicuously circular surface expression, it possesses a central uplift, and it causes a negative gravity anomaly. The existence of two closely spaced and similarly sized complex craters raises the possibility that they formed during related impact events. However, the second structure’s morphology is shallower, its overlying ice is conformal and older, and such an event can be explained by chance. We conclude that the identified structure is very likely an impact crater, but it is unlikely to be a twin of the Hiawatha impact crater. Plain Language Summary It is increasingly rare to find new large impact craters on Earth, let alone such craters buried beneath ice. We describe a possible impact crater buried beneath 2 kilometers of ice in northwest Greenland. The circular structure is more than 36 kilometers wide, and both its shape and other geophysical properties are consistent with an impact origin. If eventually confirmed as an impact crater, it would be only the second found beneath either of Earth’s ice sheets. The first was the Hiawatha impact crater, which is also in northwest Greenland and only 183 kilometers away from this new structure, so we also evaluated whether these two craters could be related. They are similarly sized, but the candidate second crater appears more eroded and ice above it is much less disturbed than above the Hiawatha impact crater. Statistical analysis of the frequency of two unrelated but nearby large impacts indicates that it is improbable but not impossible that this pair is unrelated. Our study expands knowledge of the impact history of the Earth and raises the question as to how many other impact craters buried beneath ice have yet to be found.

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Earth Surface & Interior Program (ESI)