The Great Hudson Arc: A 250-mile-wide mystery

Annotated satellite photo of Hudson Bay arc.
(Click for a larger view.)

It’s nice to find out that there are still mysteries left in this world, let alone ones that are visible from space. On the southeast corner of Hudson Bay, the coast line traces a near perfect arc, roughly concentric on another ring of islands in the bay. So, what caused it? The obvious answer, proposed in the 1950s, is that it’s the remnants of a large impact crater. Apparently, however, there is none of the usual geologic evidence for this, and over the past 50 years, there has been debate on its origins. From other sites I’ve read, many geologists seem to have concluded that it is a depression caused by glacial load during the ice age, though a recent conference paper (2006) argues that it may indeed be a crater. The current thinking is summarized nicely on this web page:

There is fairly extensive information on this in Meteorite Craters by Kathleen Mark, University Press, isbn 0-8165-1568-9 (paperback). The feature is known as the Nastapoka Arc, and has been compared to Mare Crisium on the Moon. There is “missing evidence,” which suggests that it isn’t an impact structure, however: “Negative results were . . . reached by R. S. Dietz and J. P. Barringer in 1973 in a search for evidence of impact in the region of the Hudson Bay arc. They found no shatter cones, no suevite or unusual melt rocks, no radial faults or fractures, and no metamorphic effects. They pointed out that these negative results did not disprove an impact origin for the arc, but they felt that such an origin appeared unlikely.” (p. 228)

I know next to nothing about geology, but in the spirit of rank amateur naturalists that came before me, I won’t let that stop me from forming an opinion. In physics, whenever you see something that is symmetric about a point, you have to wonder about what is so special about the center of that circle. Could it really be chance that roughly 800 miles of coast line are all aiming at the same point? If not, what defined that point? One explanation for how large circular formations are created is that they start as very small, point-like features that get expanded over eons by erosion; in other words, the original sink-hole that started to erode is what defines the center of the improbable circle. There are also lots of physical phenomena that makes circles, such as deposition and flow of viscous materials from a starting point, assuming isotropic (spatially uniform) physical conditions everywhere. However, the planet is not isotropic. In fact, you can see plenty of arc-like features on coastlines and basins visible from satellite photos, and I can’t find a single one that is even close to as geometrically perfect as the Hudson Bay arc. If you overlay a perfect circle on Hudson Bay, as I’ve done in the picture, you see that it is nearly a perfect circle. How would erosion, or a glacial depression, manage to yield such a perfect geometry? Is it really possible for the earth to be that homogeneous over such a large distance, and over the geologic span of time required to create it? To my untrained eye, at least, it screams single localized event.

If so, it would seem that it would’ve been a major event, on par (at least based on size) with the impact site that is credited with putting a cap on the Cretaceous Period and offing the dinosaurs. On the other hand, this fact only serves to heighten the mystery, as you’d think there would be global sedimentary evidence for it. Whether the arc is the result of one of the biggest catastrophic events in earth’s history, or an example of nature somehow managing to create a near perfect circle the size of New York State by processes acting over unimaginably long spans of time, its existence is fascinating.

14 thoughts on “The Great Hudson Arc: A 250-mile-wide mystery

  1. Richard Vallee

    I am not an expert either. But My point is that the whole planet has been made from asteroids collisions. So, what is the matter for questioning the one that seems maybe the most obvious? In another hand, scientists have constantly to revise their point of vue because it is too rigid. They can only go with what they are told to think, no matter what the obvious is. So we can already say, that they will, sooner or later admit that this is one, or even the biggest, impact crater on earth.
    In my humble opinion…

    1. William Gillespie

      If a meteor punctured the upper mantle seems to me we cannot assume the results would be like other known impact structures.why is there a mysterious temperature in The “crust” under Hudson’s Bay .Why the depression in the Early Paleozoic? Seems to me it is far too early to rule out the possibility of an impact and it’s effect on the geology of northern Ontario at least IMHO.

    2. Nate Carlson

      Scientists don’t constantly revise their points of view because they are “too rigid”. The whole point of science is to compare ideas and figure out which one best explains what we see in the world around us. Yes, there are often arguments, and sometimes one or two scientists will get stuck on an idea that ends up being wrong, but they aren’t just going “with what they are told to think.” At least they shouldn’t be. Most scientists go through a decade of training in university to think critically and work out problems for themselves based on evidence and mathematical theories. So I think you’re not giving them the credit they are due because expertise is a real thing. In the same way a doctor knows better how to cure an illness or a mechanic knows better how to fix a car, a geologist is gonna know better how this formed. For my part, I see a round thing and think, “well clearly that’s come from some physical symmetry”. A point impact like an asteroid with a lot of momentum hitting at the centre of the arc seems like a pretty plausible reason for its shape, but I don’t have any formal geology training, so I can only think of astrophysical symmetries, not geophysical ones, which means that my inexpert opinion isn’t worth much compared to a geophysicists.

  2. David Carlson

    Ice compression in icy-body impacts may clamp the impact shock-wave pressure below the melting point of silicates and below the pressure necessary to form shatter cones, disguising icy-body impact structures.

    And Belcher Islands, near the geometrical center, may be the aqueously-differentiated trans-Neptunian object (TNO) core of the icy body from a much earlier Proterozoic perturbation of the former binary TNO pair which spiraled in to merge and melt a salt-water ocean in the merged ‘contact binary’. Mineral grains precipitate in the core salt-water ocean formed by spiral-in merger, forming a sedimentary core which may undergo diagenesis, lithification and metamorphism from the pressure developed by freezing the salt-water ocean.

  3. Carl Schuster

    I would like to add that the Arc does not appear on any map I have been able to examine, until after 1783. The Bay had been extensively previously mapped, but the previously surveyed maps all show features that once existed, but no longer do. Houston, we have a problem. Carl G. Schuster

  4. Martin Trenz

    Looking at the picture above I noticed two odd, smaller circles to the east of the arc. Checking it out on Google Maps i found the bigger one to be “Lac Wiyáshákimi” (the smaller one doesn’t seem to have a name).

    The islands in the middle of the arc are off center. If it was a meteor (or similar) it would – probably – have come in at an angle. That would be consistent with the position of the islands.

    This meteor would then have flung debris from the impact site eastward. A big, heavy piece could have created “Lac Wiyáshákimi”, it is in pretty good alignment for an object from space impacting from the west. Also there is a ring of islands inside that lake as well, which I find very intriguing and consistent with an impact.

    Alternative theory: the lake was crated by smaller debris from the meteor (or whatever it was) that separated from the main body during the fiery traverse through our atmosphere.

    Maybe someone could take rock samples from that lake in order to possibly add another data point to this mystery.

    1. Joe McAnally

      Doing scientific work in this area is difficult and expensive as the area is way more isolated than it seems. I do like your debris concept. Imagine though if this debris was ice.

  5. Joe McAnally

    consider this… what if the meteorite impacted the area “through” a mile of ice??? The normal geofeatures would be inapplicable and we need to imagine what this “ice burn” would look like. A lot of huge pieces of ice splashed around the globe for one thing.

  6. Zemog

    Icy meteor, or comet, impacting on glacier would leave steam and vapor, shock wave would press lower ice into ring and throw up huge steam plume but possibility remains that remnant frozen chunks are at depth…intact as deposited surviving steam and impacting into liquefied rock at low relative T high P.

  7. Zemog

    Arc carved by steam, ice and shockwave, not direct contact, hence regularity in appearance, it was essentially machined.

  8. Greg O'Neal

    Possibly the Younger Dryas Impact melting the last vestiges of the Ice Age 11500 years ago? North American ice sheet and comet and Gobekli Tepe… fits nicely.

  9. Richard Best

    I believe that there is confusion about the age of the Laurentide ice field because scientist (know) how fast glaciers move. I see theories of how a meteor hit the Laurentide Ice sheet as well as other possible comet impact sites throughout the Laurentide field and they age them over millions of years old. No one as far as I have found has theorized that the ice fields of Canada, Baffin Bay and Greenland, and a Hudson Bay meteor crater (possibly several) are the results of a single event: an event of not a meteor rock or metallic origin, but of ice. The finding of Frozen animals could not have happened if they were caught in a blizzard. These animals were frozen at near absolute zero. The only way that could have happened would be if earths atmosphere was pushed away from the surface by a large meteor. I have read that ice would melt entering our atmosphere, but for a similar experiment, someone can take a wet hand and quickly dunk their wet hand into a crucible of molten lead without being burned. It is the steam produced that keeps the hand from burning. The same would hold true of ice entering our atmosphere. The steam generated would create a heat shield allowing the meteor to penetrate the atmosphere and protect it from being destroyed. I believe that the Crater (s) of Hudson bay and all across Canada are the evidence of what caused the Laurentide ice fields. A single event. All Glacial movement radiates from Hudson Bay which supports my theory. The glacial movement was instantaneous as part of the impact.

  10. Tony Levand

    I was looking at this on Google maps and wondered if it was an impact creator. It seems like it would be have to be billions of years old. There is a ridge along the shore line, eroded by glaciers. The western half is missing, maybe covered by later epochs of rock. The moon has a lot of craters, probably not a square meter that hasn’t been impacted, the earth should have experienced the the same intensity.


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