Published: Sat, November 17, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Massive Meteorite Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland's Ice

Massive Meteorite Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland's Ice

Scientists believe the Hiawatha crater was created when an iron meteorite more than a half-mile wide smashed into western Greenland with the force of about 47 million Hiroshima bombs.

The discovery was initially made in 2015 from data from a NASA program, but a team of worldwide researchers has been working to verify these observations since. That would mean it crashed into Earth when saber-toothed tigers and other megafauna were in decline and humans were trekking across the Bering land bridge on their epic migration into North America.

"The two combined made a really strong case for this being an impact-crater site". To put it in perspective, NASA says the crater is bigger than the Capital Beltway in Washington.

"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 Kjær, a professor at the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in a statement.

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.

A German research plane was tasked with flying over the Hiawatha Glacier, mapping the crater and its ice with an "ice radar".

To get an even better glimpse at what might be hiding there, new flyovers with a powerful ice-penetrating radar setup were performed, and the resulting map of the ground beneath the ice proved what the team had suspected: there's a crater there, and it's quite large.

"Our colleagues at the Alfred Wegener Institute and University of Kansas did exactly that with a next-generation radar system that exceeded all expectations and imaged the depression in stunning detail".

Because the crater lies under the giant Hiawatha glacier, they had to settle for examining sediment meltwater-and that sediment included "shocked quartz grains", pointing toward a meteor strike. With that, researchers were graced with the presence of a "distinctly circular rim, central uplift, disturbed and undisturbed ice layering, and basal debris", according to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center glaciologist Joe MacGregor.

Accurately dating the collision will provide future research with a better understanding of the consequences of such an impact and how it affected the environment on the Earth. It is therefore very resonable to ask when and how and this meteorite impact at the Hiawatha Glacier affected the planet.

"We are now trying to come up with ideas on how to date the impact", she told the outlet.

"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.

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