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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


Volume: 76 (1992)

Issue: 5. (May)

First Page: 651

Last Page: 679

Title: Impact Origin of the Avak Structure, Arctic Alaska, and Genesis of the Barrow Gas Fields (1)

Author(s): C. E. KIRSCHNER (2), ARTHUR GRANTZ (3), and M. W. MULLEN (3)


Geophysical and subsurface geologic data suggest that the Avak structure, which underlies the Arctic Coastal Plain 12 km southeast of Barrow, Alaska, is a hypervelocity meteorite or comet impact structure. The structure is a roughly circular area of uplifted, chaotically deformed Upper Triassic to Lower Cretaceous sedimentary rocks 8 km in diameter that is bounded by a ring of anastomosing, inwardly dipping, listric normal faults 12 km in diameter. A zone of gently outward-dipping sedimentary country rocks forms a discontinuous ring of "rim anticlines" within the peripheral ring of normal faults. Beyond these anticlines, the sedimentary rocks are almost flat-lying. Basement consists of strongly deformed Ordovician and Silurian argillite. Density and acoustic impedance con rasts between the argillite and the overlying strata produce gravity and seismic-reflection signatures that define a ring of anticlines around the disturbed zone and a structural high surrounded by an annular structural low at its center.

In the adjacent Barrow gas fields, the tops of the informally named Neocomian "pebble shale" unit and the gas-producing Lower Jurassic Barrow sand (local usage) lie at average subsea depths of 488 m and 670 m, respectively. In the Avak 1 well, drilled on the central high, the pebble shale and the Barrow sand lie near the surface, documenting more than 500 m of relative uplift at the high. The cores in this well have steep dips (30-90 degrees), mixed breccia with Franklinian argillite clasts 10 and 90 m above basement, quartz grains with shock mosaicism and multiple sets of shock lamellae, oriented concussion fractures in sand-size quartz grains, and shatter cones resembling those found in the peripheral zones of well-documented impact structures. In addition, above-background levels o fractured quartz grains in Barrow sand were found as far as 19 km beyond the rim of the Avak structure.

Data concerning the age of the Avak structure are not definitive. If submarine landslide deposits in the upper part of the Aptian and Albian Torok Formation, in the subsurface 200 km to the east, were triggered by the Avak event, then the Avak meteorite struck a submerged marine shelf about 100 + or - 5 Ma. However, the impact features found at Avak (shatter cones, concussion fractures, shock lamellae and shock mosaicism in quartz grains, and widespread cataclasis) characterize the distal zones of meteorite impact structures. Fused rocks, plastic deformation, and shock-metamorphic minerals found in more proximal zones of impact structures are apparently missing. These observations, and the lack of Avak ejecta in cuttings and cores from the Torok Formation and Nanushuk Group (Albian to middle Cenomanian) in surrounding test wells, indicate that the impact event postdated these beds. In this case, the Avak meteorite struck a Late Cretaceous or Tertiary marine shelf or coastal plain between the Cenomanian (ca. 95 Ma), and deposition of the basal beds of the overlying late Pliocene and Quaternary Gubik Formation (ca. 3 Ma).

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