The Mystery of Upheaval Dome: Uniformitarian Impact Craters, Part Quatre

Guest post by David Middleton

In my previous three posts on uniformitarian impact craters, we examined the pitfalls of drawing cartoons on Google Earth images without ever looking at the geology; how the Carolina Bays are as antithetical to impact features as any dents in the ground possibly could be; and poked a big hole in the latest Younger Dryas impact paper.

In part quatre (four for those who don’t pretend to speak French), we will look at Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park, Utah… a supposedly confirmed impact crater.  In particular, we will examine how the world’s leading experts in impact craters and salt tectonics drew diametrically opposing conclusions from the same data.  This is another rather long post, with a lot of geology jargon.  I have included a glossary at the end of the post.


Figure 1. Aerial view of Upheaval Dome. Utah Geological Survey.

Upheaval Dome is a very enigmatic geological feature in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.  Since it was first described in 1927, several hypotheses have been put forward to explain its origin:

  • underlying salt dome
  • pinched-off salt diapir
  • cryptovolcanic explosion
  • fluid escape
  • meteoritic impact
  • and my personal favorite…

Over the years, all but two of these hypotheses have been shot down.

Pinched-off salt diapir or impact crater?


By William Case

Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, is a colorful circular “belly button,” unique among the broad mesas and deep canyons of the Colorado Plateau.

The rim of Upheaval Dome is 3 miles across and over 1000 feet above the core floor. The central peak in the core is 3000 feet in diameter and rises 750 feet from the floor.

Since the late 1990s, the origin of the Upheaval Dome structure has been considered to be either a pinched-off salt dome or a complex meteorite impact crater; in other words the “belly button” is either an “outie” (dome) or “innie” (crater).

Both origin hypotheses account for the overall structure of Upheaval Dome, assuming approximately a mile of overlying rock has been eroded. The main differences between the two hypotheses are the amount of time and the pressures needed to produce the structure.

A salt dome is produced when a subsurface layer of salt (originally deposited when a large body of saline water evaporated) is eventually squeezed upward because of the weight of overlying rock. At Upheaval Dome, the upward flow would have to have been “pinched off” by rock that fell into voids left by salt dissolved by surface water.

The pinched-off salt dome hypothesis assumes that up to 20 million years of moderate pressures produced the feature, compared to only a few minutes of extremely high to low pressure changes for the impact crater hypothesis.

Until recently, “smoking gun” evidence for either origin was absent because of erosion. No remnant pieces of salt or related rocks and minerals have been found to support the pinched-off salt dome hypothesis; neither were formerly molten rocks, ejected and crushed rock, or minerals altered by high pressure found to support the impact crater hypothesis.

Then, in 2007, German scientists Elmar Buchner and Thomas Kenkmann reported finding quartz crystals that were “shocked” by the high pressure of a meteorite impact. Many geologist now consider the mystery of Upheaval Dome’s origin to be solved (and it’s an “innie”!).

The core consists of the oldest rock formations at Upheaval Dome. The Organ Rock Shale and White Rim Sandstone of the Permian Cutler Group, and Triassic Moenkopi Formation were injected and pushed upward in a chaotic jumble. The Triassic Chinle Formation, Triassic-Jurassic Wingate Sandstone, and Jurassic Kayenta Formation and Navajo Sandstone are stacked, oldest to youngest, from the core to the rim.


Utah Geological Survey

Regional Setting


Figure 2. Schematic cross section of the Canyonlands National Park area.  The Paradox Salt Formation is the manila colored bulge underlying Canyonlands NP.  Upheaval Dome is out of the plane of the cross section, between Stillwater Canyon and Grandview Point. Capitol Reef Geological Cross Section, Capitol Reef Natural History Association.


Figure 3.  Canyonlands NP Stratigraphic Column.  Capitol Reef Natural History Association and Utah Geological Survey.

Canyonlands National Park and the entire Colorado Plateau are a “geologist’s paradise.”

From 2004-2007, we made several “field trips” to the region.  Upheaval Dome is almost dizzying.  These are some photos Mrs. Middleton (a fellow geo) took in 2007:

IMG_0159 140IMG_0150 131

IMG_0155 136

Figures 4, 5 & 6.  Photos of Upheaval Dome by Mrs. Middleton.

Can you believe that we forgot to include a lens cap for scale?

The light colored, greenish rock in the central part of the dome is the highly deformed Lower Triassic Moenkopi Formation.


Figure 7.  Upheaval Dome.  Utah Geological Survey.

Salt domes and impact craters are often surrounded by rim synclines.

Figure 8.  Examples of rim synclines. Cramez 2006.

Upheaval Dome has a rim syncline, surrounded by a rim monocline.  Salt domes often exhibit rim monoclines, impact craters don’t.


Figure 9.  Dome Encircling Monocline (DEM) = Rim Monocline or Ring Monocline.  Dome Encircling Syncline (DES) = Rim Syncline or Ring Syncline.  Geesaman 2015.


Figure 11.  Northern Paradox Basin Stratigraphic Column.  Geesaman 2015.

Upheaval Dome and Barringer Crater

The Colorado Plateau is also the host to one of the world’s most well-preserved and extensively studied impact features: Barringer Crater.  For a tremendous reference on Barringer Crater, I highly recommend David Kring’s Guidebook to the Geology of Barringer Meteorite Crater, Arizona (a.k.a. Meteor Crater).  

Barringer Crater is well-worth the price of admission.  While not as dizzying as Upheaval Dome, it is very impressive.

Meteor Crater_Arizona

Figure 12.  Barringer Crater (aka Meteor Crater), Arizona.  Photo by Mrs. Middleton.

Once again… We forgot to use a lens cap for scale… D’oh!

Barringer Crater is a “simple” impact crater.  If Upheaval Dome was an impact crater, it would be a “complex” crater.


Figure 13.  Simple vs. complex impact craters. Brunetti 2014, original image from NASA.

About 145 million years of erosion has removed about 1 km of rock thickness from Upheaval Dome.  So the melt layers, impact breccia, ejecta fields and most other potential evidence for a meteoric impact are long-gone.  The highly deformed central uplift is assumed to be a remnant rebound feature of a complex crater.   On the other hand, the Barringer Crater impact occurred only 40-50 thousand years ago.  It is a nearly intact simple crater.

Here’s how the two geologic features compare:


Figure 14.  Geologic maps of Upheaval Dome and Barringer Crater plotted at the same scale.


Figure 15.  Cross sections of Upheaval Dome (Geesamen et al., 2015) and Barringer Crater (Roddy et al., 1975). Plotted at the same scale.

Honestly, at this point, I fail to see how anyone could interpret Upheaval Dome as an impact feature.

Shoemaker vs Jackson

Most readers of WUWT are familiar with the late Gene Schoemaker.

Gene Shoemaker – Founder of Astrogeology

April 28, 1928 – July 18, 1997

He once said he considered himself a scientific historian, one whose mission in life is to relate geologic and planetary events in a perspective manner. A modest statement coming from a legend of a man who almost single-handedly created planetary science as a discipline distinct from astronomy. He brought together geologic principles to the mapping of planets, resulting in more than 3 decades of discoveries about the planets and asteroids of the Solar System. He was a 1992 recipient of the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor bestowed by the President of the United States, then George Bush. His family, friends, former students, and the scientific community are in shock as they hear the news and feel the loss of “SuperGene.”

Dr. Gene Shoemaker died Friday, July 18, 1997 (Australian Time) in Alice Springs, Australia in a car accident. He was in the field, pursuing his lifelong passion of geologic studies to help understand impact craters with his wife and science partner, Carolyn Shoemaker. Carolyn survived the accident sustaining various injuries.

A longtime resident of Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1961 Gene invented the Branch of Astrogeology within the U.S. Geological Survey and established the Field Center in Flagstaff in 1963. Retired from the USGS in 1993, he has held an Emeritus position there and has been recently affiliated with Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. An incredibly diverse person, he influenced science in numerous ways: most recently, in a decade-long sky survey for earth-crossing asteroids and comets, culminating in the discovery (with wife Carolyn and David Levy) of Comet Shoemaker-Levy, which impacted Jupiter in 1994, giving the world of science a major new insight into both the dynamics of comets and the planetary science of Jupiter. He has spent numerous summers (Australian winters) exploring ancient parts of the earth for records of meteorite and comet impacts, resulting in the discovery of a number of new craters. In much of his asteroid and comet work, Shoemaker collaborated closely with his wife, Carolyn, a planetary astronomer. A close and devoted couple, their work was recently featured in a 1997 National Geographic documentary “Asteroids: Deadly Impact.” They considered their work a “Mom and Pop” operation and together they initiated the Palomar Planet-crossing Asteroid Survey in 1973, and the Palomar Asteroid and Comet Survey in 1983.

Gene Shoemaker seems to have been a geologist from the day he was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1928. He did not even need to complete his higher education (B.S. and M.S., California Institute of Technology, 1947 and 1948; Ph.D. Princeton University after an interrupted career, 1960) before starting the practice of astrogeology that was to lead him to the planets. He began exploring for uranium deposits in Colorado and Utah in 1948, and these studies brought him geographically and intellectually near the many volcanic features and the one impact structure on the Colorado Plateau in the western United States, namely Hopi Buttes and Meteor Crater. In the period 1957-1960, he did his classic research on the structure and mechanics of meteorite impact. This work–including the discovery of coesite (a high pressure form of silica created during impacts) with E.C.T. Chao–provided the definitive work on basic impact cratering. It was work that he continued throughout his life–both by exploration of the earth–particularly in Australia–and the planets by remote sensing and mapping.

A man of vision, he believed geologic studies would be extended into space and in his early career he dreamed of being the first geologist to map the Moon. During the 1960’s he lead teams who were investigating the structure and history of the Moon and developing methods of planetary geologic mapping from telescope images of the Moon. A health problem prevented his being the first astronaut geologist, but he personally helped train the Apollo Astronauts and sat beside Walter Cronkite in the evening news giving geologic commentary during the Moon walks. He was involved in the Lunar Ranger and Surveyor programs, continued with the manned Apollo programs, and culminated his moon studies in 1994 with new data on the Moon from Project Clementine, for which he was the science-team leader.

Gene was the recipient of numerous awards including: Doctorate of Science Arizona State College, Flagstaff, 1965. Wetherill Medal of the Franklin Institute, co-recipient with E.C.T. Chao, 1965. Arthur S. Flemming Award, 1966. Doctorate of Science, Temple University, 1967. NASA Medal for Scientific Achievement, 1967. U.S. Department of the Interior Honor Award for Meritorious Service, 1973. Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1980. U.S. Department of the Interior Distinguished Service Award, 1980. Arthur L. Day Medal of the Geological Society of America, 1982. G.K. Gilbert Award of the Geological Society of America, 1983. Reiser Kulturpreis, co-recipient with E.C.T. Chao and Richard Dehm, 1983. Honorary Doctorate of Science, University of Arizona, 1984. Barringer Award of the Meteoritical Society, 1984. Kuiper Prize of the American Astronomical Society, Division for Planetary Sciences, 1984. Leonard Medal of the Meteoritical Society, 1985. Distinguished Alumni Award of the California Institute of Technology, 1986. Rittenhouse Medal of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, co-recipient with C.S. Shoemaker, 1988. U.S. National Medal of Science, 1992. Whipple Award, American Geophysical Union, 1993. Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1993. AIAA Space Science Award, 1996. NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, 1996. Bowie Medal, American Geophysical Union, 1996. Special Award, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1997. Shoemaker Award, Texas Section of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, awarded posthumously, 1997.

From 1962 to 1985, Shoemaker blended his astrogeology research for the USGS with teaching at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He chaired Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences from 1969 to 1972. One of his doctorate students at Caltech, Dr. Susan Werner Kieffer, remembers him as being one of the most unfailingly generous, and intellectually honest mentors she has ever known. His colleagues at the USGS remember a exceptionally brilliant, exuberant, vibrant man and a warm human being whose angry antics over copy machines and loud happy laughter rang down the hallways. I remember a meeting when a newcomer to science overheard Gene’s excited conversation and laughter at a meeting and remarked “who is that loud guy?”–to which I replied that is the “god of planetary geology” and we all know that gods don’t whisper. As with his persona, Gene Shoemaker’s legacy will never be a whisper, but a loud burst onto the realm of Science that will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife; his son, Patrick Shoemaker and wife Paula Kempchinsky; his daughters Christine Woodard and Linda Salazar and her husband Fred; and grandchildren, Sean and Adrian Woodard and Stefani Salazar, and a sister, Maxine Heath.

By Mary G. Chapman


On the other hand, I would guess that most WUWT readers and very few people outside the oil & gas industry are familiar with the work of the late Martin Jackson.

In Memoriam: Martin P. A. Jackson

June 1, 2016

Martin Jackson, world-renowned geoscientist and esteemed Bureau researcher, passed away early Tuesday, May 31.

Martin is recognized globally for his groundbreaking work in the field of salt tectonics, with over 100 papers and 3 books on the subject. Said Bureau colleague Michael Hudec in 2013: “He’s the number one person in the world by a goodly margin. His papers are universally regarded as the most authoritative on salt tectonics. And his name is associated with most of the major concepts in salt tectonics….You cannot work effectively in salt tectonics without reading Martin’s work.” In recent years, Jackson had been exploring signs of salt-tectonic activity on other planetary bodies, including Mars and Neptune’s moon Triton.

Born in Rhodesia (today, Zimbabwe), Jackson initially studied old, hard Precambrian gneisses before moving to Texas and eventually becoming immersed in, as he called it, “a subsurface world of very young, soft rocks.” He came to the Bureau in 1980 and in 1988 was instrumental in the creation of the Bureau’s first Industrial Associates program, the Applied Geodynamics Laboratory (AGL), founded to investigate the then-poorly-understood world of salt tectonics. With seed money from UT Austin and the member support of 13 oil and gas companies, Jackson’s new consortium became a model for those to follow. Over 25 years after its founding, the AGL now maintains over 30 participating companies and is widely considered the world’s preeminent salt-tectonics research laboratory. Today, it is almost impossible to talk about salt tectonics without using terms and concepts developed at the AGL, including salt canopy, salt weld, reactive diapir, squeezed diapir, extrusive salt sheet, and multidirectional extension.

Jackson’s numerous major career honors include the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Robert R. Berg Outstanding Research Award (2010) in recognition of outstanding innovation in petroleum geoscience research and the Geological Society of London’s William Smith Medal (2013) for outstanding research in applied geology. According to AAPG records, no one has won more AAPG technical awards, nor has anyone won in as many technical categories. Jackson’s notable publications include the AAPG Memoir Salt Tectonics: A Global Perspective (2008, with David Roberts and Sig Snelson), a definitive book on the subject, and the major 2012 atlas The Salt Mine (with Bureau colleague Hudec), an interactive resource on salt tectonics. Jackson’s publication legacy will continue as co-author (also with Hudec) of the forthcoming Salt Tectonics: Principles and Practice, to be published in September 2016 by Cambridge University Press.

In addition to his preeminence as a research scientist, Martin Jackson is equally regarded for his strength of character, gracious demeanor, and unfailing humor. His friends and peers recall his kindness, humility, insightfulness, and remarkable equanimity.

Bureau director Scott W. Tinker said, in conveying the loss of his friend to the Bureau family, that “Martin was one of the finest people I have known. Practical. Brilliant. Creative. Dedicated to his family and his science until the end. He will be missed but always remembered.”

Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin

Gene Shoemaker and Martin Jackson were brilliant geologists and the leading scientists, if not founders, of their respective disciplines.  Both have written extensively on the subject of Upheaval Dome, they have built upon each other’s work and that of other geoscientists… And they couldn’t have disagreed any more profoundly.  Both of these brilliant geologists, employing the archaic principles of uniformitarianism, came to very firm and diametrically opposing conclusions.  Maybe… If they had just drawn cartoons on Google Earth images… Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Here is a sampling of the back-and-forth:

Jackson 1998…

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


Upheaval Dome (Canyonlands National Park, Utah) is an enigmatic structure previously attributed to underlying salt doming, cryptovolcanic explosion, fluid escape, or meteoritic impact. We propose that an overhanging diapir of partly extrusive salt was pinched off from its stem and subsequently eroded. Many features support this inference, especially synsedimentary structures that indicate Jurassic growth of the dome over at least 20 m.y. Conversely, evidence favoring other hypotheses seems sparse and equivocal.

In the rim syncline, strata were thinned by circumferentially striking, low-angle extensional faults verging both inward (toward the center of the dome) and outward. Near the dome’s core, radial shortening produced constrictional bulk strain, forming an inward-verging thrust duplex and tight to isoclinal, circumferentially trending folds. Farther inward, circumferential shortening predominated: Radially trending growth folds and imbricate thrusts pass inward into steep clastic dikes in the dome’s core.

We infer that abortive salt glaciers spread from a passive salt stock during Late Triassic and Early Jurassic time. During Middle Jurassic time, the allochthonous salt spread into a pancake-shaped glacier inferred to be 3 km in diameter. Diapiric pinch-off may have involved inward gravitational collapse of the country rocks, which intensely constricted the center of the dome. Sediments in the axial shear zone beneath the glacier steepened to near vertical. The central uplift is inferred to be the toe of the convergent gravity spreading system.

Jackson et al., 1998

Shoemaker 1999…

Geology of the Upheaval Dome impact structure, southeast Utah

Abstract. Two vastly different phenomena, impact and salt diapirism, have been proposed for the origin of Upheaval Dome, a spectacular scenic feature in southeast Utah. Detailed geologic mapping and seismic refraction data indicate that the dome originated by collapse of a transient cavity formed by impact. Evidence is as follows: ( 1) sedimentary strata in the center of the structure are pervasively imbricated by top-toward-the-center thrust faulting and are complexly folded as well; (2) top-toward-the-center normal faults are found at the perimeter of the structure; (3 ) clastic dikesa re widespread; (4 ) the top of the underlying salt horizon is at least 500 m below the surface at the center of the dome, and there are no exposures of salt or associated rocks of the Paradox Formation in the dome to support the possibility that a salt diapir has ascended through it; and (5) planar microstructures in quartz grains, fantailed fracture surfaces (shatter surfaces), an rare shatter cones are present near the center of the structure. We show that the dome formed mainly by centerward motion of rock units along listric faults. Outcrop-scale folding and upturning of beds, especially common in the center, are largely a consequence of this motion. We have also detected some centerward motion of  fault-bounded wedges resulting from displacements on subhorizontal faults that conjoin and die out within horizontal bedding near the perimeter of the structure.  The observed deformation corresponds to the central uplift and the encircling ring structural depression seen in complex impact craters.


The presence of known salt structures in the region influenced early interpretations that Upheaval Dome resulted from salt diapirism, but it is noteworthy that there are no other similar-size domal structures visible elsewhere in this part of the Colorado Plateau.


Kriens, Shoemaker and Herkenoff, 1999

Nothing described in Kriens et al., 1999 is inconsistent with a pinched-off salt diapir.  I’ve worked salt basins since 1981 (East Texas and the Gulf of Mexico) and I’ve seen plenty of salt structures that didn’t look like any other salt structures in their respective basins.

Naturally, being an oil industry geoscientist, who has spent his entire career working salt basins and learned most of what I know about salt tectonics from the works of Martin Jackson and interpreting seismic data in East Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, I am clearly biased in favor of Martin Jackson’s interpretation.  Petroleum geologists have been predisposed to various salt diapir hypotheses for a very long time.

I am fortunate enough to have an original 1972 copy of this book (along with a mimiograph copy of the errata).


Figure 17.  ‘RMAG’s Geologic Atlas of the Rocky Mountain Region was an instant classic when published in 1972 on the occasion of RMAG’s 50th Anniversary. Affectionately known as the “Big Red Book,” its extensive paleogeographic maps remain a valuable resource to this day. The Atlas was the product of six years labor with an editorial staff of 26 and authors hailing from 43 separate companies and institutions.”


Figure 18.  “The structure is a collapsed salt dome in the Paradox basin.”

Uhm… yeah.

Upheaval Dome *should* appear different than any other salt structure in the Paradox Basin:


Figure 19.  Structure map of top of Paradox Salt Formation. Contour interval = 1,000′. Utah Geological Survey.

The most prominent salt structures in the Paradox Basin are the elongate “salt walls” in the northeastern part of the basin.  These NW-SE striking features are up to 100 miles long, with 6,000′ of vertical relief.  The salt is subaerially exposed in several locations along the crests of the salt walls.

Upheaval Dome is in the southwestern part of the basin.  It is in an area where the salt structures are primarily low-relief salt-cored anticlines (bumps), many of which are elongated.  Upheaval Dome has much higher vertical relief (>2,000′) than any nearby salt anticline and is nearly circular.

It’s obvious from this gravity map that Upheaval Dome is unlike any other salt structure in the Paradox Basin:


Figure 20.  Paradox Basin gavity gradient map. Geesaman 2015. Upheaval Dome sticks out like a sore thumb.

In 2000 NASA sponsored a seismic reflection and refraction survey in an effort to image the subsurface structure (Kanbur et al., 2000).  They concluded that there was no evidence of a salt diapir beneath Upheaval Dome, despite the fact that their seismic profiles didn’t cover the dome itself.  They only covered the rim monocline and rim syncline.  The seismic profiles were consistent with both hypotheses.  However, it did indicate the presence of salt beneath the rim syncline; which is unusual, but not unprecedented, for a pinched-off salt diapir.

In 2001, Martin Jackson published a book on Upheaval Dome that addressed the conclusions of Krien’s et al., 1999 (Shoemaker), particularly the crushed quartz grains and clastic dikes:

Structure and Evolution of Upheaval Dome: Pinched-Off Salt Diapir or Meteoritic Impact Structure?


Upheaval Dome (Canyonlands National Park, Utah) is an enigmatic structure previously attributed to underlying salt doming, cryptovolcanic explosion, fluid escape, or meteoritic impact. We instead propose that an overhanging diapir of partly extrusive salt was pinched off from its stem and subsequently eroded. Many features support this inference, especially synsedimentary structures that indicate Jurassic growth of the dome over at least 20 m.y. Conversely, evidence favoring other hypotheses is sparse and equivocal.


Crushed Quartz Grains

Quartz grains that have been crushed or shattered into pieces in the clastic dikes were used as evidence of impact by Shoemaker and Herkenhoff (1984), and although we found microfractured quartz in the dikes (fig. 40), even widespread microfractured quartz is geologically common. For example, quartz grains are crushed and mechanically rearranged by compaction during burial (Milliken, 1994; Dickinson and Milliken, 1995); they are common in fault zones within 100 m of even small-displacement (~100 m) fault surfaces (Anders and Wiltschko, 1994).  Microfractures are typically masked by recementation of authigenic quartz between and in optical continuity with the shards. Electron-beam-induced cathodoluminescence of our Upheaval Dome sample reveals that the quartz undulatory extinction is caused by slightly misoriented grain fragments separated by microfractures sealed by cement (fig. 40a). Brittle deformation and sealing of this type is common in faulted rocks (Anders and Wiltschko, 1994).

Jackson et al., 2001 pg 55

The downloadable PDF is available from the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology for $15.

Jackson compiled a table of the evidence for and against both an impact feature and a pinched-off salt diapir.

Table 1 from Jackson et al., 2001…

Incompat. with impact Compat. with pinch-off Compat. with impact Incompat. with pinch-off
Circularity X X
Central uplift X X
Clastic dikes X X
Crushed quartz grains X X
Inner constrictional zone X X
Outer extensional zone X X
Radial flaps (dog tongues) X X
Presence of underlying salt X X
Gravity and magnetic anomalies X X
Contiguous anticline X X
Nearby salt structures X X
Rim syncline X X
Rim monocline X X
Growth folds X X
Growth faults X X
Shifting rim synclines X X
Truncations and channeling X X
Onlap X X
Multiple fracturing and cementation X X
Steep zones X X
Outward-verging  extension X X
Volume imbalance X X
Shatter cones X X
Salt below rim syncline X X
Absence of salt at the surface X X
Paucity of nearby piercement diapirs X X
Absence of meteoritic material X X
Absence of melt X X
Absence of in-situ breccia X X
Absence of shock-metamorphic minerals X X
Paucity of planar microstructures in quartz X X
Absence of ejecta breccia X X
Absence of outer fault terracing X X
Absence of overturned peripheral flap X X

The evidence overwhelmingly supported the salt diapir hypothesis.  Although it clearly did not rule out an impact feature, as most of the positive evidence was consistent with both hypotheses.

At this point, the score was:

  • Pinched off salt diapir 30
  • Impact crater -2

Then along came a “smoking gun”

Upheaval Dome, Utah, USA: Impact origin confirmed


Upheaval Dome is a unique circular structure on the Colorado Plateau in SE Utah, the origin of which has been controversially discussed for decades. It has been interpreted as a crypto volcanic feature, a salt diapir, a pinched-off salt diapir, and an eroded impact crater.  While recent structural mapping, modeling, and analyses of deformation mechanisms strongly support an impact origin, ultimate proof, namely the documentation of unambiguous shock features, has yet to be successfully provided. In this study, we document, for the first time, shocked quartz grains from this crater in sandstones of the Jurassic Kayenta Formation. 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. The shocked quartz grains were found in the periphery of the central uplift in the northeastern sector of the crater, which most likely represents the cross range crater sector.

Buchner & Kenkmann, 2008

This bit is laughable:

While recent structural mapping, modeling, and analyses of deformation mechanisms strongly support an impact origin…

Prior to the discovery of 2 shocked quartz grains in the Jurassic Kayenta Formation, there was no unambiguous evidence that Upheaval Dome was an impact feature.  However, the detection of planar deformation features (PDF’s) did provide clear evidence for a meteoric impact.

Final Score

  • Pinched off salt diapir 28
  • Impact crater 0

Unless… the PDF’s were examples of tectonic deformation lamellae in quartz.  Or the 2 shocked quartz grains were detrital… as are most quartz grains in sandstone.

However, the PDF’s do appear to be evidence of an impact event… somewhere in or around the Paradox Basin at some point during or earlier to the deposition of the Kayenta Formation.

End of story… Right?  Wrong.

Nothing is over until we say it’s over!

New Evidence for Long-Term, Salt Related Deformation at Upheaval Dome, SE Utah*

Patrick J. Geesaman 1, Bruce D. Trudgill 2, Thomas E. Hearon IV 3, and Mark G. Rowan 4

Search and Discovery Article #10756 (2015)**  Posted August 3, 2015  *Adapted from oral presentation given at AAPG Annual Convention & Exhibition, Denver, Colorado, May 31-June 3, 2015
**Datapages © 2015 Serial rights given by author. For all other rights contact author directly.
1 Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Houston, TX, USA
2 Geology & GE, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, USA (
3 Structure and Geomechanics, Geological Technology, ConocoPhillips Company, Houston, TX, USA
4 Rowan Consulting, Inc., Boulder, CO, USA


Upheaval Dome is an eroded structural dome that exposes Mesozoic strata along with associated folds, faults and sand injectites in the Paradox basin, SE Utah. Multiple interpretations for its origin have been proposed, but the two remaining viable hypotheses are at opposite ends of the geologic spectrum: one proposing long-term salt-related deformation and growth of the structure, the other a catastrophic meteorite impact.  Analysis of stratigraphic field data collected in Triassic to Jurassic-aged strata adjacent to Upheaval Dome reveals: (1) stratigraphic thicknesses from measured sections for the Kayenta Formation (~199 to ~195 Ma) that range from 7 meters to 224 meters, and projected thicknesses in cross section that can exceed 400 meters; (2) distinct changes in facies distributions in relation to mapped structures; (3) localized angular unconformities and stratal-onlap surfaces; (4) blocks of Triassic Chinle Formation encased in younger Jurassic Wingate Sandstone adjacent to thinned, Wingate lobes, that apparently downlap onto the underlying Chinle. Structural analysis at Upheaval Dome reveals: (1) synclinal growth axes and associated depositional centers shift away from the center of the dome throughout the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic; (2) stratigraphic thicknesses increase across normal faults on the scale of meters to tens of meters; (3) thrust faults within the Kayenta Formation verge to the southeast regardless of location around the structure. These structural features and associated growth strata offer compelling evidence for long-term deformation compatible with salt tectonics at Upheaval Dome during the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic. Sparse indicators of catastrophic impact are present in the Kayenta Formation in the form of two shocked quartz grains, orders of magnitude less than would be expected <1 km from a meteorite impact site. We interpret these grains to be detrital and sourced from outside the Paradox basin. In our interpretation of salt-related deformation, we discuss the merits and drawbacks of a model invoking collapse over a buried salt high to a prior model of a pinched-off diapiric feeder to an eroded salt glacier. The possibility that a meteorite impact of Late Permian to Early Triassic age initiated the growth of an isolated salt pillow in the western part of the northern Paradox Basin requires further investigation.

AAPG Search and Discovery

Instead of a post-Jurassic impact event (~ 2 minutes) vs. slow, steady growth of a subsequently pinched-off salt diapir from the Late Triassic through at least the Early Jurassic (~20 million years)… Geesamen et al., 2015 put forward the hypothesis that an impact occurred much earlier, during the Early Triassic followed by the initiation of salt movement and the slow growth of a salt dome from the Early Triassic (~250-240 Ma) through at least the Early Jurassic (~195-170 Ma), a period of 45 to 80 million years.  This actually better explains the presence of at least 2 shocked quartz grains in the Early Jurassic Kayenta Formation than a post-Jurassic impact does.  It also explains the clear stratigraphic evidence for slow structural growth over millions of years.

There you have it, a hypothesis that accommodates all of the unambiguous evidence.

  • Unambiguous evidence for an impact: 2 shocked quartz grains in the Early Jurassic.
  • Unambiguous evidence for a salt diapir: Structural growth from the Late Triassic through Early Jurassic.

We have both kinds…

We have both kinds of evidence: Salt diapirism and meteoric impact.


Figure 21. Evidence of syndepostional structural growth around Upheaval Dome is unambiguous evidence that the structure was formed over a period of at least 45-70 million years. Geesamen et al., 2015.

I’m sure someone is asking, “How could it be possible that two of the foremost geologists in the world could look at the same data and come away with diametrically opposing interpretations?  Furthermore, how could a geologist barely out of grad school come along and demonstrate that they were both wrong?”  

Even if no one is asking this question, or questions, I’ll answer it with a poem (and I hate poetry almost as much as I hate folk music):


Figure 22.  Geology & geophysics are often analogous to a group of blind men interpreting an elephant.  AAPG.

Since the image is probably too small to read, here’s the poem…

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approach’d the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,-
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Blind Men and the Elephant – A Poem by John Godfrey Saxe via All About Philosophy

That said… It’s a salt diapir… Sorry.

Applications to climate science

The “Blind Men and the Elephant” is even more applicable to climate science than it is to geology & geophysics.  The difference is that most climate scientists don’t seem to realize this.

Did you ever notice how government and closely affiliated academic scientists seem to interpret data with the intent of finding a specific answer, while private sector and closely affiliated academic scientists interpret data with the intent of finding the answer that best explains all of the observations?  I notice this all the time.  In the case of Upheaval Dome, it seems that NASA-affiliated scientists were hell-bent on it being an impact feature.  So hell-bent as to basically ignore almost all of the evidence.  This strikes me as being very similar to the way government and closely affiliated academic climate scientists tend to view things this way:


JC at the National Press Club, Climate Etc.



1. n. [Geology]
An arch-shaped fold in rock in which rock layers are upwardly convex. The oldest rock layers form the core of the fold, and outward from the core progressively younger rocks occur. Anticlines form many excellent hydrocarbon traps, particularly in folds with reservoir-quality rocks in their core and impermeable seals in the outer layers of the fold. A syncline is the opposite type of fold, having downwardly convex layers with young rocks in the core.


Breccia is a term most often used for clastic sedimentary rocks that are composed of large angular fragments (over two millimeters in diameter). The spaces between the large angular fragments are filled with a matrix of smaller particles and a mineral cement that binds the rock together.


1. n. [Geology]
Sediment consisting of broken fragments derived from preexisting rocks and transported elsewhere and redeposited before forming another rock. Examples of common clastic sedimentary rocks include siliciclastic rocks such as conglomerate, sandstone, siltstone and shale. Carbonate rocks can also be broken and reworked to form clastic sedimentary rocks.

Clastic dike

A tabular body of clastic material transecting the bedding of a sedimentary formation, representing extraneous material that has invaded the containing formation along a crack, either from below or from above.


1. adj. [Geology]
Pertaining to particles of rock derived from the mechanical breakdown of preexisting rocks by weathering and erosion. Detrital fragments can be transported to recombine and, through the process of lithification, become sedimentary rocks. Detrital is usually used synonymously with clastic, although a few authors differentiate between weathering of particles, which forms detrital sediments, and mechanical breakage, which produces clastic sediments.


1. n. [Geology]
A relatively mobile mass that intrudes into preexisting rocks. Diapirs commonly intrude vertically through more dense rocks because of buoyancy forces associated with relatively low-density rock types, such as salt, shale and hot magma, which form diapirs. The process is known as diapirism. By pushing upward and piercing overlying rock layers, diapirs can form anticlines, salt domes and other structures capable of trapping hydrocarbons. Igneous intrusions are typically too hot to allow the preservation of preexisting hydrocarbons.


Listric fault

1. n. [Geology]
A normal fault that flattens with depth and typically found in extensional regimes. This flattening manifests itself as a curving, concave-up fault plane whose dip decreases with depth.


(geology) A unidirectional dip in strata that is not a part of an anticline or syncline
(geology) A single flexure in otherwise flat-lying strata

Planar deformation features

Planar deformation features, or PDFs, are optically recognizable microscopic features in grains of silicate minerals (usually quartz or feldspar), consisting of very narrow planes of glassy material arranged in parallel sets that have distinct orientations with respect to the grain’s crystal structure.

PDFs are only* produced by extreme shock compressions on the scale of meteor impacts. They are not found in volcanic environments. Their presence therefore is a primary criterion for recognizing that an impact event has occurred.

* Except when PDF’s are produced by tectonic forces.

Rim syncline

A syncline partially surrounding a salt dome. It results from withdrawal of salt that has moved into the dome.


1. n. [Geology]
Basin- or trough-shaped fold in rock in which rock layers are downwardly convex. The youngest rock layers form the core of the fold and outward from the core progressively older rocks occur. Synclines typically do not trap hydrocarbons because fluids tend to leak up the limbs of the fold. An anticline is the opposite type of fold, having upwardly-convex layers with old rocks in the core.


(geology) Occurring at the same time as deposition


Billingsly, George H. and William J. Breed.  “Capitol Reef Geological Cross Section.” Published by the Capitol Reef Natural History Association, Torrey Utah 84775 ©1980 Capitol Reef Natural History Association. Reprinted 1996 Lithography by Lorraine Press Salt Lake City, Utah

Blenkinsop T. G. and Drury M. R. D. 1988. Stress estimates and fault history from quartz microstructures. Journal of Structural Geology 10:673–684.

Brunetti, Maria. (2014). “Statistics of terrestrial and extraterrestrial landslides.” PhD Thesis. 10.13140/2.1.4107.3444.

Buchner, Elmar & Kenkmann, Thomas. (2008). “Upheaval Dome, Utah, USA: Impact origin confirmed.” Geology. 36. 227-230. 10.1130/G24287A.1.

Cramez, Carlos. Glossary of Salt Tectonics.” (2006).  Universidade Fernando Pessoa. Porto, Portugal.

Geesaman, J., Patrick & Trudgill, Bruce & Hearon, Thomas & Rowan, Mark. (2015). “New Evidence for Long-Term, Salt-Related Deformation at Upheaval Dome, SE Utah.”  2015 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, At Denver Colorado.

Hamers, Maartje & Drury, M.R.. (2011). “Scanning electron microscope‐cathodoluminescence (SEM‐CL) imaging of planar deformation features and tectonic deformation lamellae in quartz.” Meteoritics & Planetary Science. 46. 1814 – 1831. 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2011.01295.x.

Jackson, Martin & Schultz-Ela, Dan & Hudec, Michael & Watson, IA & L. Porter, M. (1998). “Structure and evolution of Upheaval Dome: A pinched-off salt diapir.” Geological Society of America Bulletin – GEOL SOC AMER BULL. 110. 1547-1573. 10.1130/0016-7606(1998)110<1547:SAEOUD>2.3.CO;2.

Jackson, M.P.A., D. D. Schultz-Ela, M. R. Hudec, I. A. Watson, and M. L. Porter.  RI0262. “Structure and Evolution of Upheaval Dome: Pinched-Off Salt Diapir or Meteoritic Impact Structure?”  Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin. 2001.

Kanbur, Z., J. N. Louie, S. Chávez‐Pérez, G. Plank, and D. Morey (2000), Seismic reflection study of Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. J. Geophys. Res.105(E4), 9489–9505, doi:10.1029/1999JE001131.

Kriens, Bryan & M. Shoemaker, Eugene & Herkenhoff, K. (1999). “Geology of the Upheaval Dome impact structure, southeast Utah.” Journal of Geophysical Research. 104. 18867-18888. 10.1029/1998JE000587.

Kring, David A.  “Guidebook to the Geology of Barringer Meteorite Crater Arizona (a.k.a. Meteor Crater).” 2nd edition ©2017, Lunar and Planetary Institute LPI Contribution No. 2040

Naqi Mohammad, Bruce Trudgill and Charles Kluth.  “A New Insight on the Mechanism of Salt Wall Collapse in Northeastern Paradox Basin, Utah.”  Search and Discovery Article #10837 (2016).  Adapted from poster presentation given at AAPG Annual Convention & Exhibition, Denver, Colorado, May 31-June 3, 2015.

Roddy, D. J., Boyce, J. M., Colton, G. W., & Dial, A. L., Jr.  “Meteor Crater, Arizona, rim drilling with thickness, structural uplift, diameter, depth, volume, and mass-balance calculations.” Lunar Science Conference, 6th, Houston, Tex., March 17-21, 1975, Proceedings. Volume 3. (A78-46741 21-91) New York, Pergamon Press, Inc., 1975, p. 2621-2644. Research supported by the U.S. Defense Nuclear Agency.

Trudgill, Bruce. (2010). “Evolution of salt structures in the northern Paradox Basin: Controls on evaporite deposition, salt wall growth and supra-salt stratigraphic architecture: Evolution of salt structures in the northern Paradox Basin.” Basin Research. 23. 208 – 238. 10.1111/j.1365-2117.2010.00478.x.

USGS Astrogeology Science Center.  Meteor Crater Sample Collection / Interactive Map.


5 Responses to “The Mystery of Upheaval Dome: Uniformitarian Impact Craters, Part Quatre”

  1. The Mystery of Upheaval Dome: Uniformitarian Impact Craters, Part Quatre | Watts Up With That? Says:

    […] Carlos. “Glossary of Salt Tectonics.” (2006).  Universidade Fernando Pessoa. Porto, […]

  2. The Mystery of Upheaval Dome: Uniformitarian Impact Craters, Part Quatre | Says:

    […] Carlos. “Glossary of Salt Tectonics.” (2006).  Universidade Fernando Pessoa. Porto, […]

  3. What’s in a Name? | The Road Less Traveled Says:

    […] Viewed from directly above, Upheaval Dome looks like a circular crater, 3 miles in diameter. Indeed, one theory – the more sensational of the two – is that it is, in fact, a crater, the result of an oblique meteor strike. But the duller theory, that Upheaval Dome is the result of what its name implies – the upward push of a pinched off salt dome, a salt diaper – seems to be the more likely explanation. […]

  4. What’s in a Name? | The Road Less Traveled Says:

    […] Viewed from directly above, Upheaval Dome looks like a circular crater, 3 miles in diameter. Indeed, one theory – the more sensational of the two – is that it is, in fact, a crater, the result of an oblique meteor strike. But the duller theory, that Upheaval Dome is the result of what its name implies – the upward push of a pinched off salt dome, a salt diapir – seems to be the more likely explanation. […]

  5. Jenny Says:

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something which too few people are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I found this in my hunt for something regarding this.|

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