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Are bent planar deformation features (PDFs) no PDFs?

(first published on in 2005)

by Kord Ernstson & Ferran Claudin

PDFs are planar shock deformations in minerals (especially quartz) in the form of
closely spaced isotropic lamellae following crystallographic planes (Fig. 1). They
may be decorated by fluid and/or mineral inclusions as the result of annealing.

Fig. 1. Planar deformation features in quartz; Ries impact structure. Photomicrograph, crossed
polarizers; the field is 460 !m wide.

According to current knowledge, PDFs cannot form in endogenetic geologic

processes. Therefore, the occurrence of PDFs plays an important role in the
establishment of authentic impact structures. And here, a problem turns out. In
the past, curved PDFs have repeatedly been claimed to be of non-impact origin,
and we mention for example the paper written by Reimold, W.U. & Koeberl, C.
(2000): Critical Comment on: A.J. Mory et al. 'Woodleigh, Carnavon Basin, Western
Australia: A New 120 km Diameter Impact Structure EPSL v. 184, pp. 353-357). In
this paper we read: "However, 'planar' and 'locally curved' represent a
contradiction. There are several papers in the literature (e.g. [2,3]) that
demonstrate that non-planar lamellae are not shock-diagnostic evidence."

What are the facts? In general, PDFs in quartz are indeed straight and parallel (Fig.
1) due to crystallographic planes in an undeformed crystal lattice. However, as is
well known, quartz crystals may undergo plastic deformations resulting in a
deformation of the lattice. In thin section, these deformations are easily seen in
the form of undulatory extinction on rotation of the stage of the polarization
microscope. Obviously, the crystallographic "planes" in the crystal are no longer

What happens when a shock wave impinges on an already plastically deformed

quartz grain to produce PDFs in it? We think that according to definition, the PDFs
will develop with respect to the deformed lattice, and, consequently, they must
be bent.

What happens when a shock wave impinges on an undeformed quartz crystal to

produce straight and parallel PDFs, and the crystal experiences a post-shock plastic
deformation? According to the critics of bent PDFs, it's true the lattice becomes
deformed displaying undulatory extinction, but the PDFs must remain straight. As,
however, they are no longer following the crystallographic orientation, these PDFs
are no PDFs. Everything all right? We to the contrary see things much simpler and
predict bent PDFs reflecting the deformation of the crystal lattice.

As an impact may affect a tectonically overprinted target, bent PDFs in pre-shock

plastically deformed quartz must not be surprising. On the other hand, bent PDFs
from post-shock plastic deformation are expected to develop in the impact
cratering process itself (in the excavation and modification stages) not excluding a
later tectonic overprint and further bending of PDFs.

Fig. 2. Two sets of slightly bent PDFs in quartz. Photomicrograph, crossed polarizers; the field is
about 1.5 mm wide. - Shocked quartzite cobble from crater 004 of the Chiemgau impact
strewnfield (see

We conclude and express (what we have been doing since many years) that curved
PDFs (Fig. 2) must belong to the shock inventory of impact structures and that they
may even be diagnostic if the bending is correlated with undulatory extinction
proving crystallographic orientation. In Fig. 3 we show photomicrographs obtained
from the rotation of the stage of a polarization microscope (xx polarizers), and we
can clearly observe that the bent PDFs are intimately associated with the
undulatory extinction.
Fig.3. Bent PDFs closely corresponding with undulatory extinction of the quartz grain.
Photomicrographs taken by stepwise rotation of the stage of the polarization microscope. Same
quartzite cobble as in Fig. 2.

In March and April 2000, Dr. Ann Therriault (Geological Survey of Canada, and co-
worker of Dr. R.A.F. Grieve) made a very thorough PDF analysis of sedimentary
samples from the Azuara impact structure in Spain. She analyzed quartz from a
strongly shocked dike-breccia clast and from the Pelarda Fm. ejecta and found
among 48 measured PDFs sets 9.3 % basal, 40.7 % !, 12.9 % ", 12.9 % #, 7.4 % r,z
and subordinately s, $ and m PDFs. And Dr. Therriault explicitly stated in her
report "... many curved PDFs!!" (see Fig. 4, and for the PDFs histogram:
Fig. 4. Two sets of bent PDFs in quartz; quartzite cobble from the Pelarda Fm. ejecta of the
Azuara impact structure (Spain).

We want to add that meanwhile there are other impact researchers having become
aware of peculiar post-shock processes in impact target rocks, and we especially
point to an LPSC XXXV (2004) abstract article
( on the Charlevoix
impact structure. In Fig. 1 of that article nicely bent PDFs in quartz parallel to
{0001} are shown (copied to our Fig. 5), and we cite from the text: "Bent planar
deformation features (PDFs) can reflect the continuous bending of the crystal
lattice (Fig. 1)."

Fig. 5. Bent planar deformation features (PDFs) in quartz from the Charlevoix impact structure.
(from Trepmann and Spray 2004).

In fact and strictly speaking, "bent planar deformation features" is a contradiction

in terms, but as long as we understand that PDFs refer to the crystal lattice and not
to the mathematical definition of a plane, a renaming seems to be dispensable.