by: Charles O’Dale

  • Type: Central peak
  • Age(ma): 50.5 ± 0.76a
  • Diameter: 45km
  • Depth: 2.7km
  • Location: Scotian Shelf, Canada N 42° 53’ W 64° 13’

a Dating Method: K-Ar, Ar-Ar and Rb-Sr ages

The Montagnais impact crater, submerged south of Nova Scotia, Canada.
Montagnais impact structure on the continental shelf, south east of Nova Scotia, Canada. The position of the crater is indicated by the red circle.
Shag Bay, Nova Scotia – the relative position of the Montagnais impact crater is indicated in the far background, is located in 113 meters of water on the continental shelf 200km southeast of Nova Scotia. Shag Bay, on the south shore of Nova Scotia just west of Halifax, points approximately toward the Montagnais underwater crater, 200km in the distance.

Widespread erosion and mass failure from the ∼51 Ma Montagnais marine bolide impact off southwestern Nova Scotia, Canada

Mark E. Deptuck, D. Calvin Campbell


The ∼51 Ma Montagnais impact crater on the outer Scotian Shelf is well known, but the potential effects from the impact event on the slope and rise seaward of the crater have, until now, remained poorly understood. Through detailed seismic stratigraphic correlation and ties to available wells, we define a threefold seismic stratigraphic subdivision for Upper Cretaceous to Eocene strata on the shelf and slope, calibrated to the most recent biostratigraphic results. Using this framework, we identify a number of depositional and erosional products that are temporally consistent with a late Ypresian impact event (within the limits of seismic and biostratigraphic resolution). We link a series of prominent failure scarps on the outer shelf and upper slope to a single widespread mass-transport deposit (MTD) on the lower continental slope, rise, and abyssal plain. Failed material amassed in a large debris field referred to here as the “Montagnais MTD”. It covers an area of ∼93 000 km2 and travelled up to 580 km from the impact site where its distal termination onlaps the New England Seamounts, making it one of the largest known debris avalanches on Earth. We interpret these deposits, and the associated pattern of erosion landward of them, as products of widespread margin collapse caused by a combination of ground shaking and ensuing tsunamis triggered by the Montagnais impact event. This study provides insight into the potential effects of outer-shelf marine impact events immediately downslope from impact sites, and their diminished effects with increasing distance along the margin. (Published on December 2012)

The Montagnais structure represents the first complex impact crater recognized in the ocean (Jansa and Pe-Piper 1987). The crater located near the edge of the Scotian Shelf is nearly circular and it shows a central structural uplift over 1700m high. Surrounding the central uplift is an annular trough (figure below) of down-dropped basement and Jurassic/Cretaceous sediments extending out to a diameter of 45 km, interpreted to be the crater rim (Jansa 1989). Apart from backwash effects associated with the returning ocean after impact, the structure appears relatively well preserved.

Residual Bouguer gravity anomaly map of Montagnais area after removing regional crustal component associated with the continental shelf edge. The image shows that the structure is marked by a gravity anomaly high of ~8 mGal with width ~11km centered on the central uplift. Contour interval = 2 mGal.

The gravity signature of Montagnais (only a gravity high associated with the central uplift) most resembles those anomalies found over heavily eroded impact structures on land formed in sedimentary rocks (e.g., Upheaval Dome, Utah, USA). This unusual gravity signature of the Montagnais crater has important consequences for the location/detection of impact structures formed in offshore regions, particularly on continental shelves (Pilkington, 1995).

The I-94 drill project results confirmed the seismic interpretation of an impact crater.

Rocks penetrated by the 1,646-m well can be subdivided into three sequences (Friedenreich 1988):

  • Holocene to Eocene marine post structure sediments (540 m);
  • early Eocene to Cretaceous beds (547 m) containing three basaltic melt zones. K-Ar dating of the melt zones provides an impact time of 49 – 51 Ma, which is in agreement with the early Eocene age of the overlying sediments. The lack of enrichment of the melt rocks in siderophile elements compared with basement rocks and a slight enrichment in iridium suggest that the impactor was either a stony meteorite or a cometary nucleus with an estimated diameter of 2-3km (Jansa it al. 1989), and;
  • the basement of uplifted and disturbed metasedimentary Paleozoic rocks.
The red dot represents the approximate area of the Montagnais impact 51 million years ago in the Paleogene Period.


  1. The physical position of three impact craters on the Continental Shelf – Chesapeake, Toms Canyon & Montagnais.


Brent Dalrymple, Radiometric Dating Does Work! Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Friedenreich, O. R., Montagnais submarine meteorite impact structure, offshore Nova Scotia, Canada. Annual meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Houston, TX, USA, 20 Mar 1988

Jansa, L. F., Pe-Piper, G., Robertson, P.B. and Freidenreich,O., Montagnais: A submarine impact structure on the Scotian shelf, eastern Canada. Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 101, pp. 450-463. 1989.

Jansa, L. F., Pe-Piper, G., Identification of an underwater extraterrestrial impact crater. Nature, v. 327, pp. 612-614. 1987.

Pilkington, M., Jansa, L.F. and Grieve, R.A.F., Geophysical studies of the Montagnais impact crater, Canada. Meteoritical Society, pp. 446-450. 1995.

Earth Impact Database