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Rock fluidization during peak-ring formation of large impact structures

An Author Correction to this article was published on 13 November 2018

This article has been updated


Large meteorite impact structures on the terrestrial bodies of the Solar System contain pronounced topographic rings, which emerged from uplifted target (crustal) rocks within minutes of impact. To flow rapidly over large distances, these target rocks must have weakened drastically, but they subsequently regained sufficient strength to build and sustain topographic rings. The mechanisms of rock deformation that accomplish such extreme change in mechanical behaviour during cratering are largely unknown and have been debated for decades. Recent drilling of the approximately 200-km-diameter Chicxulub impact structure in Mexico has produced a record of brittle and viscous deformation within its peak-ring rocks. Here we show how catastrophic rock weakening upon impact is followed by an increase in rock strength that culminated in the formation of the peak ring during cratering. The observations point to quasi-continuous rock flow and hence acoustic fluidization as the dominant physical process controlling initial cratering, followed by increasingly localized faulting.

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Fig. 1: Typical impact structures on the Moon ( and the geophysical characteristics of the Chicxulub impact structure.
Fig. 2: Modelled formation of the Chicxulub impact structure.
Fig. 3: Spatial distribution of major lithological units and deformation structures in target rock of M0077A drill core.
Fig. 4: Deformation structures in target rock at site M0077A.
Fig. 5: Images illustrating rock types found between 1,220 and 1,316 m.b.s.f.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published Article. Other Expedition 364 data are available online (

Change history

  • 13 November 2018

    In this Article, the middle initial of author Kosei E. Yamaguchi (of the IODP–ICDP Expedition 364 Science Party) was missing and his affiliation is to Toho University (not Tohu University). These errors have been corrected online.


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This work was supported by the Priority Programs 527 and 1006 of the German Science Foundation (grants Ri 916/16-1 and PO 1815/2-1), National Science Foundation grants (OCE-1737351, OCE-1450528 and OCE-1736826), and Natural Environment Research Council (grants NE/P011195/1 and NE/P005217/1). The Chicxulub drilling expedition was funded by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) and the IODP as Expedition 364 with co-funding from the ICDP. The Yucatan State Government and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) provided logistical support. This research used samples and data provided by IODP. Samples can be requested at We are grateful for assistance from the staff of the IODP Core Repository in Bremen, Germany, during the Onshore Science Party. We thank B. Ivanov and C. Koeberl for constructive reviews and S. Teuber for assistance in figure preparation. This is UTIG contribution number 3,278.

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Nature thanks B. Ivanov and C. Koeberl for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Authors and Affiliations




U.R., M.H.P., A.S.P.R., J.V.M., S.P.S.G. and R.A.F.G. conceived the study. All authors participated in sampling and data collection offshore and/or onshore during IODP-ICDP Expedition 364, interpretation of the data as well as writing and/or editing of the manuscript. U.R. provided the first draft of the manuscript. U.R. and F.M.S. acquired structural data from line scans. J.L. and A.D. provided the downhole orientation data. A.S.P.R and G.S.C. performed and analysed the numerical models; G.S.C., A.S.P.R. and H.J.M. contributed the discussion on the implications for acoustic fluidization.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ulrich Riller.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Lower-hemisphere, equal-area diagrams showing poles to pre-impact aplite, diabase and pegmatite sheet intrusions.

N, north. n, number of dykes.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 2 Diagram showing pressure versus time as recorded by 100 Lagrangian tracer particles in the peak-ring rocks.

(See Supplementary Video for location of tracer particles). Grey circles show the pressure of each tracer particle at time intervals of 2 s. The black solid line shows average pressure (all tracer particles). We note the elevated pressures between T = 100 s and T = 250 s during central uplift formation and collapse.

Supplementary information

Video 1

Animation of the numerical simulation results. The target (and impactor) materials are indicated by colour, consistent with the individual frames shown in Fig. 2 (carbonate rock, grey; crust, pink; mantle, green). Large-scale deformation of the entire target is illustrated by a grid of Lagrangian tracer particles (black dots) with 2-km initial spacing. In addition, 100 tracer particles within the peak-ring rocks are highlighted in blue. The inset shows the same tracer particles in a Lagrangian reference frame centered on the average coordinates of the highlighted tracer particles.

Source data

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Riller, U., Poelchau, M.H., Rae, A.S.P. et al. Rock fluidization during peak-ring formation of large impact structures. Nature 562, 511–518 (2018).

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  • Peak-ring Formation
  • Target Rocks
  • Acoustic Fluidization
  • Chicxulub
  • Cataclasite Zones

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