Crater discovered under Hiawatha glacier in Greenland with help of NASA

James Marshall
November 15, 2018

Scientists have discovered a 31-kilometre wide meteorite impact crater buried beneath the ice-sheet in the northern Greenland.

The crater formed less than 3 million years ago, according to the study, when an iron meteorite more than half a mile wide smashed into northwest Greenland. After spotting the indentation in the radar images, the researchers set about getting samples to confirm their hunch.

Suspicions the giant depression was a meteorite crater were reinforced when a German research plane flew over the Hiawatha Glacier and mapped the crater and the overlying ice with a new powerful ice radar.

"We've collected lots of radar-sounding data over the last couple of decades, and glaciologists put these radar-sounding datasets together to produce maps of what Greenland is like underneath the ice", said team member Dr. John Paden, a researcher in the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the University of Kansas. Current estimates, based on the geological profile, seem to suggest that crater is quite young, but further analysis is required.

The discovery has been in the making since 2015 after lead study author Kurt Kjær, a geochemist at the University of Copenhagen, found a weird depression under the glacier in maps made by NASA's Operation IceBridge. They had also used Alfred Wegener Institute's powerful ice-penetrating radar system that was operated from the air back in 2016 to determine the concrete place of the crater.

Earlier studies have shown large impacts can profoundly affect Earth's climate, with major consequences for life on Earth at the time.

"We immediately knew this was something special but at the same time it became clear that it would be hard to confirm the origin of the depression", said Kurt H. Kjær, lead researcher on the study, published Wednesday in Science Advances.

"Initially we thought we might find the signature from a chrondritic or "stoney" meteorite, but the only explanation for the pattern of metals that we found had to be a mixture between the crustal rocks in the surrounding area and an unusual iron asteroid", McDonald added. The researchers plan to continue their work in this area, addressing remaining questions on when and how the meteorite impact at Hiawatha Glacier affected the planet.

Some, including Kring, believe that the impact crater is not an asteroid, but Nicolaj Larsen is confident that it came from space, even if the impact to the planet's climate or life may not yet be known.

"This will be a challenge, because it will probably require recovering material that melted during the impact from the bottom of the structure", said Kjær.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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