The Chesapeake Bay bolide impact: a new view of coastal plain evolution

Fact Sheet 049-98



A spectacular geological event took place on the Atlantic margin of North America about 35 million years ago in the late part of the Eocene Epoch. Sea level was unusually high everywhere on Earth, and the ancient shoreline of the Virginia region was somewhere in the vicinity of where Richmond is today (fig. 1). Tropical rain forests covered the slopes of the Appalachians. To the east of a narrow coastal plain, a broad, lime (calcium carbonate)- covered continental shelf lay beneath the ocean. Suddenly, with an intense flash of light, that tranquil scene was transformed into a hellish cauldron of mass destruction. From the far reaches of space, a bolide (comet or asteroid), 3-5 kilometers in diameter, swooped through the Earth's atmosphere and blasted an enormous crater into the continental shelf. The crater is now approximately 200 km southeast of Washington, D.C., and is buried 300-500 meters beneath the southern part of Chesapeake Bay and the peninsulas of southeastern Virginia (fig. 1).

The entire bolide event, from initial impact to the termination of breccia deposition, lasted only a few hours or days. The crater was then buried by additional sedimentary beds, which accumulated during the following 35 million years.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title The Chesapeake Bay bolide impact: a new view of coastal plain evolution
Series title Fact Sheet
Series number 049-98
DOI 10.3133/fs04998
Year Published 1998
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Field Center
Description 2 p.
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