Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jeffrey G. Ryan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarah E. Kruse, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter J. Harries, Ph.D.


impacts, meteorite impact, asteroid impact, impact crater, astrobleme, cryptovolcanic, shock metamorphism, maskelynite, spherules, impactites, breccias, melt breccias, glass breccias, lithic breccias


The Gatun Structure (N 09º 05’ 58.1”, W 79º 47’ 21.8”, situated in the triple-canopy rainforest 10 km to the WSW of the Gamboa and about 2 km south of the Isle of Barbacoas, Republic de Panama), is a partially inundated, quasi-concentric surface feature ~3km in diameter, which appears in aerial photographs and in radar imagery as an arcuate chain of islands with a raised center. Although the structure has been heavily weathered and altered, it has retained morphology consistent with complex craters: an elevated circular central uplift 500-600 m in diameter and approximately 70 m high, and arcuate boundary ridges (a rim structure?) ranging from ~50-110 meters high. Within the central peak, highly altered and fractured siltstone of the Gatuncillo Formation (?) (Eocene) ± older rocks are uplifted and exposed through surrounding calcareous units of the Caimito Formation (Oligocene) and the Las Cascadas Formation (Miocene), the major target rocks in the region.

Lithologies in the structure include highly fractured siliciclastic rocks (siltstone, sandstones and greywackes), limestones with anomalous spherical glass inclusions, both black and white hypocrystalline glasses (possible melt rocks), lithic fragmental breccias, and melt-bearing breccias (possible impact melt breccias and suevites) containing flow banding and evidence for selective melting of minerals. Three types of spherules (glass, fluid-drop and lithic), a pyroxenequartz “necklace” disequilibrium structure (coronas), plagioclase feldspars exhibiting mosaicism and partially amorphization and zeolitization, possible liquid immiscibility between melts of calcite and felpspathic glass, as well as decomposition of titano-magnetite, are all petrographic criteria that suggest a hypervelocity impact event.

The structure is crosscut by numerous dikes of unshocked basalt and basaltic andesite related to volcanism along the Panamanian segment of the Central American arc to the south. However, the lithologies of the Gatun Structure are chemically inconsistent with the regional volcanic rocks and the unshocked volcanic rocks that crosscut the structure. An impact origin is our preferred interpretation for the Gatun structure due to the lack of an igneous relationship between the Gatun structure and the explosive volcanism of Panamanian arc, the presence of classical impactite lithologies within the site, the occurrence of spherules, maskelynite (as suggested by Raman Spectroscopy) and other disequilibrium shock features in the Gatun suite of rocks.