Diagenetic alteration of impact spherules in the Neoarchean Monteville layer, South Africa


Intercontinental correlation of distal Archean impact ejecta layers can be used to help create a global time-stratigraphic framework for early Earth events. For example, an impact spherule layer in the Neoarchean Monteville Formation (Griqualand West Basin, South Africa) may be correlated with layers in one or more formations in Western Australia. To help assess the degree to which diagenetic alteration would hinder such correlations, we performed a petrographic study of spherules in the Monteville layer. Most of the spherules in the Monteville layer have botryoidal rims composed of radial-fibrous K-feldspar, but compaction and replacement have greatly altered their appearance and mineralogy. Moreover, the Monteville spherule layer consists of three main subunits, and spherule compaction varies between subunits as well as across the Griqualand West region. Compaction is about three times greater in a medial spherule-rich subunit as compared to a basal subunit rich in large intraclasts, resulting in better preservation of the shapes of melt particles in the latter. However, spherule rims have comparable numbers of fractures in both subunits, indicating the melt particles were fractured prior to compaction. Some spherules contain mica ribbons with a septarian geometry. Fracturing via rapid thermal quenching could help explain all of these features. If hot spherules possessing crystalline rims were thermally shocked when they hit the ocean, fractures would have the observed geometries and provide pathways for fluid infiltration and local replacement of glass by mica. Although heavily distorted, impact spherules in the Monteville layer are very similar to those in the Hesta occurrence of the Neoarchean Jeerinah spherule layer of the Hamersley Basin, even showing similar diagenetic histories. In this instance, diagenetic alteration may actually help rather than hinder intercontinental correlation of impact spherule layers.


Geological Society of America

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Geological Society of America Special Papers



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Precambrian, Ejecta, Replacement, Compaction, Stratigraphic correlation