by: Charles O’Dale


In the spring of 2019 I explored the Upheaval Dome structure. Observing the geology of the structure gave me doubts that this is the result of an impact.

  • Type: Central peak
  • Age (ma): <170 (geologically determined)aJURASSIC
  • Diameter: 2.57 km
  • Location: Utah, U.S.A. N 38° 26′ W 109° 54′
  • Shock Metamorphism: PDF in quartz grains (Buchner 2008).

a The precise age of Upheaval crater has not been determined. The problem is that the crater is deeply eroded so that crucial melt rocks and post-impact crater-filling sediments are missing. One certainty is that the crater is younger than the Jurassic Navajo Sandstoneb which was deformed by the impact and is the youngest unit exposed in the vicinity.

Navajo Sandstone: Stratigraphic range: Early Jurassic (Toarcian and Pliensbachian): 191–174  Ma


Geology and structure of Upheaval Dome, San Juan County, Utah: Salt or Impact Structure

Upheaval Dome, San Juan County, Utah, is a complexly deformed circular structure approximately 5 km in diameter, occurring within the Triassic Moenkopi, Chinle, Wingate, and Kayenta and the Jurassic Navajo Formations. The structure shows three distinct zones of deformation. The brittlely deformed central crater exhibits an intensely compressional regime. It contains a multitude of sub-radial thrust faults and sedimentary intrusive dikes of the Permian White Rim, which exploit zones of weakness. The more ductilely deformed transitional area, which occurs between .5 km and 1.5 km from the center, is a generally compressional regime. This area includes small to large scale, sub-radial thrust and scissors faults, as well as folds extending radially from the center and concentrically encircling the structure. The exterior portion of the structure exhibits extensional features: two concentric, kilometer-scale folds, a monocline and syncline; and related small and large scale normal faults which structurally thin formations within the syncline. These faults are thought to link up with large scale faults in the transitional area, forming blocks which converged upon the center during the deformational event. Hypotheses formerly proposed for the structure’s origin include: a salt diapir; a salt diapir formed over a basement uplift; a hydrotectonic pressure release conduit; a buoyantly detached diapir; a cryptovolcanic feature; and a meteorite impact. Of these, the salt tectonic and impact models are the currently favored hypotheses. Though the detached salt diapir hypothesis adequately explains some of the features of the structure, it fails to explain others. In fact, non-structurally detached diapirs have never been observed in the field or the laboratory. The impact hypothesis is able to explain many of the structures present, but similarly sized and eroded craters have also never been found. Therefore, it is difficult to constrain Upheaval Dome’s origin to any one hypothesis. (MIKE UNGER 1995)

Numerous thrust faults and related folds intersect at Turret Rock, located in the central crater. This structure indicates the complex compressional regime that existed during the formation of Upheaval Dome.


Upheaval Dome crater between the Green and Colorado rivers.

Upheaval Dome crater from GOZooM looking north-west.
The red dot represents the approximate area of the Upheaval Dome impact 170 million years ago in the Jurassic Period.

General Area: Upheaval Dome is located between the Green and Colorado Rivers near the northern edge of the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The crater stands out as an anomalous circular feature in an area dominated by dramatic stream-cut canyons. The target rocks are sedimentary.

Specific Features: The crater appears to be composed of three concentric rings enclosing a central mountainous area. One to two kilometers of erosion has stripped away the surface features revealing the strongly faulted core of the crater. The excellent rock exposures, due to deep canyons, will permit the subfloor structure of this crater to be well-mapped in three dimensions.


Upheaval Dome crater from the South East.
Upheaval Dome crater central peak.

Upheaval Dome is a unique circular structure on the Colorado Plateau in South East Utah between the Green and Colorado rivers. Structurally, the feature exhibits an outer annular, inward-dipping monocline that defines the extent of the structure. The rock layers that are now at the surface within the dome were once buried 1 – 2 km underground and are not visible anywhere else in the nearby area. Inside this monocline, there is a 3.6 km diameter circular syncline surrounding a central uplifted area with a stratigraphic rise of ~250 m (Kenkmann et al., 2005). The inner part of the central uplift forms a morphological depression that is ~1.4 km wide and 300 m deep (Buchner 2008). The destruction of the transient crater by the inflow of material during its collapse coupled with rebound of the central peak produced a ring structure, thus classifying Upheaval Dome Crater as a small complex crater.

The structure had been interpreted as a crypto volcanic feature, a salt diapir*, a pinched-off salt diapir, and an eroded impact crater. Recent structural mapping, modeling, and analyses of deformation mechanisms strongly support an impact origin. Deeply eroded by Upheaval Canyon, it is one of the best exposed impact craters on this planet offering excellent views of its structural features in both plan and profile. The deformed zone which defines the Upheaval Dome Impact Crater is about 2.57 km in diameter. A prominent central peak dominates the structure and is ringed by a syncline (Huntoon 2000).

*A diapir is a type of intrusion in which a more mobile and ductily-deformable material is forced into brittle overlying rocks.

Geological Evidence for Impact
(see my counter-hypothesis regarding this)

The original impact origin hypothesis for Upheaval Dome is based on the following criteria (Buchner, 2008):
  1. There isn’t a salt diapir anyplace in the vast Paradox basin with a structure remotely similar to Upheaval Dome, although many classical diapirs are present in the Paradox Basin area;

    The Paradox Basin is an evaporite basin containing sediments from alternating cycles of deep marine and very shallow water. As a result of the thick salt sequences and the fact that salt is ductile at relatively low temperatures and pressures, salt tectonics play a major role in the post-Pennsylvanian structural deformation within the basin
  2. The structural character of Upheaval Dome is identical to that of proven impact craters;
  3. The temporal relationship between different classes of strain features and the strain orientations that can be deduced from them at Upheaval Dome are consistent with the different stages of crater growth, whereas they are inconsistent with those of diapirs. When meteorites collide with the earth, they leave impact craters like the well-known one in Arizona. Some geologists estimate that roughly 60 million years ago, a meteorite with a diameter of approximately 0.5 km hit at what is now the Upheaval Dome. The impact created a large explosion, sending dust and debris high into the atmosphere. The impact initially created an unstable crater that partially collapsed. As the area around Upheaval Dome reached an equilibrium, the rocks underground heaved upward to fill the void left by the impact. Erosion since the impact has washed away any meteorite debris, and now provides a glimpse into the interior of the impact crater, exposing rock layers once buried thousands of metres underground. Structures produced during the three stages of cratering are preserved at Upheaval Dome. The conclusion of the contact and compression stage and earliest part of the crater excavation stage are represented by pseudo-shattercones and clastic dikes. Mechanical thickening of the stratigraphic section by conjugate thrust faults and ductile crowding structures adjacent to the opening transient crater remain from the crater excavation stage.
  4. A record of the gravity-driven modification stage is preserved as:-listric normal faults that carried material back into the transient crater;
    imbricated thrust sheets piled against the central peak representing the material that slid back into the transient crater;
    a ring syncline produced by mechanical thinning associated with the listric normal faulting;
    outwardly plunging anticlines which reveal shortening of the circumferences of the ring-shaped hanging wall blocks as they contracted toward the center, and;
    a prominent central peak caused by rebound.
  5. There are no remnants of Paradox or Hermosa strata, some of which are insoluble, either in the core or around Upheaval Dome to reveal that salt moved through the structure, and;
  6. The energies required to produce many of the classes of structures observed in Upheaval Dome, to cause the shattering of sand gains in the clastic dikes in the core of the crater, and to possibly cause the hydraulic fracturing at Roberts rift# and the soft-sediment deformation of the Carmel Formation far exceed those available in diapirism.

# The Roberts rift is a unique northeast-striking, circa 10 kilometer-long fracture located approximately 25-30 kilometers northeast of Upheaval Dome and hypothesized to be the result of impact at the dome (Shoemaker, 1998).

For terrestrial craters larger than 2.4 km in diameter in crystalline rocks, the rim diameter is related to the impact energy. Assume that the energy for sedimentary rocks is 20% less that the energy for crystalline rocks (Dence et al., 1977), and the kinetic energy of the impactor that formed Upheaval Dome had an impact velocity of 20 km/sec. For a crater of 5 km diameter, the expected uplift is approximately 350 meters. Hence, the observed structural uplift at Upheaval Dome is consistent with the scaling relationship derived from other terrestrial impact craters (Shoemaker 1998).

Compactional deformation bands found within the Wingate Sandstone at Upheaval Dome require between 0.7 GPa and 4.6 GPa to nucleate. These magnitudes of mean stress are consistent with numerical model predictions of a meteoritic impact. These deformation bands are additional evidence of an impact event at Upheaval Dome. This finding also supports a post-Wingate (post-Early Jurassic) age for this impact (Okubo 2007).

Planar Deformation Features (PDF) Confirmation of impact

Planar deformation features in quartz.

Final confirmation of an impact origin for the Upheaval Dome Impact Crater came in March 2008 (Buchner 2008) when shocked quartz grains in sandstones of the Jurassic Kayenta Formation were discovered. The samples were taken from bedrocks ~1.3 km northeast of the proposed crater center and 450 m southwest of the ring syncline axis. The investigated grains contain multiple sets of decorated planar deformation features. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) reveals that the amorphous lamellae are annealed and exhibit dense tangles of dislocations as well as trails of fluid inclusions. (PDF image courtesy Denis W. Roy & MIAC).


Planar deformation features, in quartz grains have been documented from within the Upheaval Dome Impact Crater, Utah, USA. Quartz is a mineral which retains particularly well the memory of the extreme pressures induced during impact. TEM analyses revealed that the lamellae are dislocation bands with extremely high dislocation densities that contain numerous fluid inclusions precipitated on the dislocations. The original amorphous material of the lamellae was devitrified by thermal annealing.

Documentation of planar deformation features provides the definitive evidence for the impact origin of Upheaval Dome. Experiments have concluded that such lamellae are impact diagnostic as they can only be produced by a rapid pressure change of > 10,000 atmospheres and cannot form in any other geological environment. The documented planar deformation feature lamellae discovered at Upheaval Dome suggest an impactor contact causing shock pressures of ~10 GPa at a distance of <1.3 km from the crater center (Buchner 2008).

Aerial Exploration

During my aerial exploration of the Upheaval Dome Impact Crater, I completed a full counter-clockwise orbit of the structure starting north and ending east and took the following images. I was very fortunate to get these images as there was a major thunderstorm in the area and I had to keep a “respectful” distance from those “dark” clouds!!

Upheaval Dome crater – north.
Upheaval Dome crater – west.
Upheaval Dome crater – south.
Upheaval Dome crater – east.

One of the great benefits of this crater documenting hobby of mine is I get to meet and correspond with many interesting people with a common interest.

Upheaval Dome – Linton RohrMr. Linton Rohr had just finished (2010) a ground exploration trip to the Upheaval Dome Impact Crater and sent me this image of his view from the crater rim. I publish it here with his permission. Thanks Linton.

Upheaval Dome crater courtesy of Mr. Linton Rohr.

Upheaval Dome – Ian KluftMr. Ian Kluft agreed to let me post his images of the Upheaval Dome. Thanks Ian.

Upheaval Dome crater courtesy of Mr. Ian Kluft.
Upheaval Dome crater from the air courtesy of Mr. Ian Kluft.
Upheaval Dome crater courtesy of NASA.
Upheaval Dome crater courtesy of NASA.



Buchner, E. and Kenkmann, T, UPHEAVAL DOME, UTAH, USA: IMPACT ORIGIN CONFIRMED. Large Meteorite Impacts and Planetary Evolution IV (2008)

Buchner, E., Kenkmann, T., Upheaval Dome, Utah, USA: Impact Origin Confirmed. Geology, v 36, no 3, p 227-230. 2008.

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

Dence M. R., Grieve R. A. F., and Robertson P. B., Terrestrial impact structures: Principal characteristics and energy considerations. In Impact and Explosion Cratering: Planetary and Terrestrial Implications. D. J. Roddy, R. O. Pepin, and R. B. Merrill, eds., pp. 247–275. Pergamon, 1977.

Peter W. Huntoon, Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands, Utah: Strain Indicators that Reveal an Impact Origin. Utah Geological Association, 2000.

Kenkmann, T., Jahn, A. Scherler, D. and Ivanov,B.A., Structure and formation of a central uplift: a case study at the Upheaval Dome impact crater, Utah. In Kenkmann, T., Hörz, F. and Deutsch, A. (eds.) Large Meteorite Impacts. Geological Society of America Special Paper 384 Chapter 6. 2005.

Chris H. Okubo ,Richard A. Schultz, Compactional deformation bands in Wingate Sandstone; additional evidence of an impact origin for Upheaval Dome, Utah. Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, 2007

Eugene M. Shoemaker, Bryan J. Kriens, Ken E. Herkenhop, GEOLOGY OF THE UPHEAVAL DOME IMPACT STRUCTURE, SOUTHEAST UTAH. Journal of Geophysical Research–Planets, April 16, 1998

Additional References for the Impact Hypothesis (pre shock metamorphic discovery)

Arguments in favor of an impact origin are based on Upheaval Dome’s structure:

Kanbur, Z., Louie, J.N., Chavez-Perez, S., Plank,G.and D.Morey., Seismic reflection study of Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Journal of Geophysical Research, v 105, E4, p 9489-9505. 2000.

Kenkmann, T., Scherler, D., New structural constraints on the Upheaval Dome impact crater. Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 33, Houston: CD-ROM 1037. 2002.

Kenkmann, T., Ivanov, B. A., The Upheaval Dome impact crater, Utah: Combining structural and numerical data to constrain age, diameter, and amount of erosion. Lunar and Planetary Institute Third International Conference on Large Meteorite Impacts, August 5-7th, 2003, Nordlingen, Germany. 2003.

Kriens, B. J., Herkenhoff, K.E. and Shoemaker,E.M., Structure and kinematics of a complex crater: Upheaval Dome, southeast Utah (abstract). Large Meteorite Impacts and Planetary Evolution,. 1997.

Louie, J. N., Chávez-Pérez, S. and Plank,G., Impact Deformation at Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Revealed by Seismic Profiles. (abstract), Fall AGU, p. F337. 1995.

Scherler, D., Kenkmann, T. , Jahn, A., Structural record of an oblique impact, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 248, P. 43 – 53. 2006.

Scherler, D., Jahn, A. Kenkmann,T., Structural investigations in the central uplift of the Upheaval Dome impact crater, Utah, Lunar and Planetary Institute Third International Conference on Large Meteorite Impacts, August 5-7th, 2003, Nordlingen, Germany. 2003.

References for the Diapir Hypothesis

Structure and evolution of Upheaval Dome: A pinched-off salt diapir

M. P. A. Jackson, D. D. Schultz-Ela, M. R. Hudec,I. A. Watson, M. L. Porter GSA Bulletin (1998)