AU-craterpark 2/25/99

David M. Granger (grangdm@mail.auburn.edu)

CRATER EXPERTS TO DISCUSS SITE WITH WETUMPKA OFFICIALS

AUBURN -- Did a meteorite bigger than a football stadium hit near Wetumpka millions of years ago? Geologists at Auburn University think so.

On Saturday two AU experts and one of the nation's leading authorities on meteorite impact events will meet with Wetumpka Mayor Jo Glenn will discuss how much evidence they have to convince the rest of the scientific community and, perhaps, even the National Park Service.

AU geology professors David King and Bill Hames and noted Brown University geologist Peter Schultz will meet with Glenn to discuss the evidence AU geologists have collected from the Wetumpka site.

Schultz, a professor of planetary geology, has researched impact craters all over the world,

King hopes to prove the site is the only known impact crater in Alabama and one of the few in the Southeast. He led a group that drilled two 600-foot cores in the crater last summer, and found strong evidence that Wetumpka was the site of a meteorite's impact.

"Some of what we've found in our study of these cores is completely unlike any other rock that we have seen in Alabama," King said. "We think they show the violence of the impact."

King said evidence suggests the crater was formed 80 to 83 million years ago, when at least the southern parts of Alabama were covered by waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

"Finding absolute proof of a past event is difficult to do, whether we're talking about the Wetumpka crater or anything else," King said. "There are some minerals that we've been looking for under microscope that may contain structures that, at least to most scientist minds, prove that this is an impact crater.

"We want Peter Schultz to look at these structures. I suppose that you could make a case that if he were convinced by our proof, then that would be sufficient for us to go forward with the claim that this is an impact crater."

And Wetumpka city officials, their sites set on a park to preserve the site, hope King is right. In fact, they are so eager to confirm the site that they paid for Schultz's trip to Alabama.

"If Dr. Schultz agrees with what Dr. King's assessment that this is an impact crater, then we could very well start moving forward with the park project," said Janice Whorton, Wetumpka's economic development coordinator. "Of course, there are problems to contend with. Most of the property is private and the main road in the area is very winding and poorly maintained."

Still, Wetumpka officials hope they reach the point of having to contend with those problems. Already they've sent feelers about the site to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who indicated he might approach the National Park Service about the site -- located across U.S. 231 from downtown Wetumpka --- should the evidence prove conclusive.

King said he will ask Schultz's opinion on what he thinks are "shocked" minerals he's spotted in the cores. Shocked minerals would indicate the site was either impacted by a meteorite or a volcanic eruption. And a volcanic eruption is a very unlikely possibility, King said.

"Shocked minerals are only formed by the very, very intensive pressure such as that comes from the impact of large meteorite," King said. "We're not talking about a peanut-sized rock. We're talking about a meteorite with an estimated size of 1,100 feet in diameter. It would very easily fill up Jordan-Hare Stadium and extend well beyond the upper decks.

"We need to have our evidence published in a scientific journal for this site to be formally declared an impact crater, but we are very interested in what Peter has to say about our evidence. He may feel like we need to do more work and that we don't have the kind of things that he needs to see yet. He's been doing this a lot longer than Bill Hames and I and he has more of a perspective on what to look for."

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feb99:AU-craterpark

CONTACT: King, 334/844-4882; Whorton, 334/567-5147.