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A 20-km-diameter multi-ringed impact structure in the North Sea

Abstract

Most craters found on Earth are highly eroded, poorly preserved and only exposed on land1,2. Here we describe a multi-ringed impact structure discovered in the North Sea from the analysis of three-dimensional seismic reflection data. The structure is 20 km in diameter, and has at least ten distinctive concentric rings located between 2 and 10 km from the crater centre. The structure affects Cretaceous chalk and Jurassic shales, and is well preserved below several hundred metres of post-impact Tertiary strata, which constrains its age to be 60–65 Myr old. The formation of concentric ringed impact structures at this relatively small scale had not previously been thought possible, especially on the terrestrial planets1,3,4. We have mapped the ring structures at a resolution of tens of metres both laterally and in depth, and show that the rings are fault-bounded graben structures, similar to fault arrays formed in low-strain-rate detachment tectonic settings5. Strata deeper than 500 m palaeodepth appear unfaulted, and we infer that the concentric ring structures may have accommodated post-impact extension towards the excavated crater, through detachment on weak layers within the chalk6,7.

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Figure 1: Silverpit crater compared with a similar concentric ringed structure on Europa.
Figure 2: Seismic examples from the Silverpit structure, showing the structural form and geometry of the older and younger strata.
Figure 3: Perspective view, showing the form of the mapped structure in three dimensions.
Figure 4: Detailed view of the seismic structure and interpretation, illustrating the three-dimensional form of the concentric ring structures.

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Acknowledgements

Published with permission of BP plc and PGL Ltd. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and not necessarily those of BP plc or PGL Ltd.

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Correspondence to Simon A. Stewart.

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Stewart, S., Allen, P. A 20-km-diameter multi-ringed impact structure in the North Sea. Nature 418, 520–523 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature00914

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