Nano-scale investigation of granular neoblastic zircon, Vredefort impact structure, South Africa: Evidence for complete shock melting

1Elizaveta Kovaleva,2Monika A.Kusiak,3Gavin G.Kenny,3Martin J.Whitehouse,4Gerlinde Habler,5Anja Schreiber,2Richard Wirth
Earth and Planetary Science Letters 565, 116948 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2021.116948]
1Department of Earth Sciences, University of the Western Cape, Robert Sobukwe Road, Bellville 7535, South Africa
2Institute of Geophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Księcia Janusza 64, PL-01452 Warsaw, Poland
3Department of Geosciences, Swedish Museum of Natural History, SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden
4Department of Lithospheric Research, University of Vienna, 1090 Vienna, Austria
5Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Telegrafenberg, 3.5 Surface Geochemistry, D-14473 Potsdam, Germany
Copyright Elsevier

Granular neoblastic zircon (ZrSiO4) with systematically oriented granules has been proposed as evidence for extreme shock pressures (>30 GPa) and subsequent high temperatures (>1200 °C). It is widely agreed to reflect the solid-state phase transition from zircon to its high-pressure polymorph reidite and subsequent reversion to zircon. This model is based on crystallographic relationships between granules of a single type of granular zircon and does not explain the formation of other types of granular zircon textures, for example, grains with randomly oriented granules or with large, often euhedral granules. Here we report the first nano-scale observations of granular neoblastic zircon and the surrounding environment. We conducted combined microstructural analyses of zircon in the lithic clast from an impact melt dike of the Vredefort impact structure. Zircon granules have either random or systematic orientation with three mutually orthogonal directions of their c-axes coincident with [110] axes. Each 1-2 μm zircon granule is a mosaic crystal composed of nanocrystalline subunits. Granules contain round inclusions of baddeleyite (monoclinic ZrO2) and amorphous silica melt. Tetragonal and cubic ZrO2 also occur as sub-μm-sized inclusions (<50 nm). Filament-like aggregates of nanocrystalline zircon are present as “floating” in the surrounding silicate matrix. They are aligned with each other, apparently serving as the building blocks for the mosaic zircon crystals (granules). Our results indicate shock-related complete melting of zircon with the formation of immiscible silicate and oxide melts. The melts reacted and crystallized rapidly as zircon granules, some of which experienced growth alignment/twinning and parallel growth, causing the characteristic systematic orientation of the granules observed for some of the aggregates. In contrast to the existing model, in which this type of granular zircon is considered to be a product of reversion from the high-pressure polymorph reidite, our nano-scale observations suggest a formation mechanism that does not require phase transition via reidite but is indicative of instant incongruent decomposition, melting and rapid crystallization from the melt.

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