Target Earth: evidence for large-scale impact events.Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1997 May 30; 822:319-52.AN
Unlike the Moon, the Earth has retained only a small sample of its population of impact structures. Currently, over 150 impact structures are known and there are 15 instances of impact known from the stratigraphic record, some of which have been correlated with known impact structures. The terrestrial record is biased toward younger and larger structures on the stable cratonic areas of the crust, because of the effects of constant surface renewal on the Earth. The high level of endogenic geologic activity also affects the morphology and morphometry of terrestrial impact structures; although, the same general morphologic forms that occur on the other terrestrial planets can be observed. A terrestrial cratering rate of 5.6 +/- 2.8 x 10(-15) km-1 a-1 for structures > or = 20 km in diameter can be derived, which is equivalent to that estimated from astronomical observations. Although there are claims to the contrary, the overall uncertainties in the ages of structures in the impact record preclude the determination of any periodicity in the record. Small terrestrial impact structures are the result of the impact of iron or stony iron bodies, with weaker stony and icy bodies being crushed on atmospheric passage. At larger structures (>1 km), trace element geochemistry suggests that approximately 50% of the impact flux is from chondritic bodies, but this may be a function of the signal:noise ratio of the meteoritic tracer elements. Evidence for impact in the stratigraphic record is both chemical and physical. Although currently small in number, there are indications that more evidence will be forthcoming with time. Such searches for evidence of impact have been stimulated by the chemical and physical evidence of the involvement of impact at the K/T boundary. There will, however, be problems in differentiating geochemically the signal of even relatively large impact events from the background cosmic flux of every day meteoritic debris. Even with these biases and difficulties, the terrestrial impact record is the dominan source of ground truth information on the details of the impact flux and its known and potential effects on the evolution of the Earth and its biosphere. For although the record is poorly known, what evidence there is represents an integration over considerable geologic time. On the timescales of 10(5)-10(6) a, it is clear that impact represents a major threat to human civilization. Given the stochastic nature of impact, the timing of such an event is unknown.