The Impact Pseudotachylitic Breccia Controversy: Insights from First Isotope Analysis of Vredefort Impact-Generated Melt Rocks

1,2,3Wolf Uwe Reimold, 3Natalia Hauser, 4Bent T. Hansen, 5Matthew Thirlwall, 1Marie Hoffmann
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (in Press) Link to Article []
1Museum für Naturkunde – Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung, Invalidenstrasse 43, 10115 Berlin, Germany
2Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany
3Institute of Geosciences, Laboratório de Estudos Geocronológicos, Geodinâmicos e Ambientais, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, DF, CEP 70910-900, Brasil
4Department of Isotope Geology, Geoscience Centre, Georg-August Universität, Goldschmidtstraße 3, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
5Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham TW20 0EX, U.K
Copyright Elsevier

Besides impact melt rock, several large terrestrial impact structures, notably the Sudbury (Canada) and Vredefort (South Africa) structures, exhibit considerable occurrences of a second type of impact-generated melt rock, so-called pseudotachylitic breccia (previously often termed “pseudotachylite” – the term today reserved in structural geology for friction melt in shear or fault zones). At the Vredefort Dome, the eroded central uplift of the largest and oldest known terrestrial impact structure, pseudotachylitic breccia is well-exposed, with many massive occurrences of tens of meters width and many hundreds of meters extent. Genesis of these breccias has been discussed variably in terms of melt formation due to friction melting, melting due to decompression after initial shock compression, decompression melting upon formation/collapse of a central uplift, or a combination of these processes. In addition, it was recently suggested that they could have formed by the infiltration of impact melt into the crater floor, coming off a coherent melt sheet and under assimilation of wall rock; even seismic shaking has been invoked. Field evidence for generation of such massive melt bodies by friction on large shear / fault zones is missing. Also, no evidence for the generation of massive pseudotachylitic breccias in rocks of low to moderate shock degree by melting upon pressure release after shock compression has been demonstrated. The efficacy of seismic shaking to achieve sufficient melting as a foundation for massive pseudotachylitic melt generation as typified by the breccias of the Sudbury and Vredefort structures has so far remained entirely speculative. The available petrographic and chemical evidence has, thus, been interpreted to favor either decompression melting (i.e., in situ generation of melt) upon central uplift collapse, or the impact melt infiltration hypothesis. Importantly, all the past clast population and chemical analyses have invariably supported an origin of these breccias from local lithologies only.

Here, the first Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, and U-Pb isotopic data for Vredefort pseudotachylitic breccias and their host rocks, in comparison to data for Vredefort Granophyre (impact melt rock), are presented. They strongly support that the pseudotachylitic breccias were exclusively formed from local precursor lithologies – in agreement with earlier isotopic results for Sudbury Breccia and chemical results for Vredefort pseudotachylitic breccias. A contribution from a Granophyre-like impact melt component to form Vredefort pseudotachylitic breccia is not indicated. The most likely process for the genesis of voluminous pseudotachylitic breccias in large impact structures remains decompression melting upon formation and collapse of the central uplift, during the modification stage of impact cratering.


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