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by: Charles O'Dale


Ile Rouleau impact structure, Quebec.
The Ile Rouleau impact structure is illustrated by the white circle in Lake Mistassini.
  • Age (ma): Less Than 300
  • Diameter: 4 km
  • Location: Quebec, Canada N 50° 41’ W 73° 53’
  • Shock Metamorphism: Shatter cones in dolomite and PDF in quartz grains (Ogilvie it al., 1984; Caty it al., 1976).
  • Dating Method: No reliable age, the age estimate is based on stratigraphy. The structure’s survival, at such a comparatively small size implies an age of less than 300 million years (see text).

*The term structure is used to define an impact crater that is severely altered by erosion.

The 4 km diameter Ile Rouleau Impact Structure, a simple crater in the south end of Lake Mistassini is visible as the small island within the superimposed white circle at the upper right corner of this Landsat image.

Analysis of known impact structures shows that three small North American craters of approximately end-Carboniferous date lie (within 1.3 km) on a great circle, suggesting a common provenance. These craters are Decaturville (6 km diam., 300 Ma), Des Plaines (8 km, 280 Ma) and Ile Rouleau (4 km, 300 Ma). A further 8 North American craters have similar ages. These could be secondary impact craters produced by fragments of a larger asteroid which broke up on impact following a low-angle oblique impact event. Statistically, this type of event should have happened at least once in Earth history (Hamill 2003).

The neighbouring 7 km diameter remnant of the Presqu’ile Impact Structure is displayed as the circled Lac de la Presqu’ile at the bottom and just to left of center of this Landsat image.

Odale-ilerouleau-Ile Rouleau Geology.jpg
The red dot represents the approximate area of the Ile Rouleau impact 300 million years ago in the Permian Period.

The absolute age of the Ile Rouleau Impact Structure is unknown within wide limits. As illustrated in this geologic schematic of the area, Ile Rouleau lies in Lake Mistassini, which is the center of a large basin of Proterozoic (2.5 b.y. to 543 m.a.) sedimentary rocks with considerable evidence of faulting and brecciation. The island is formed of argillaceous and micritic dolomite of member C of the lower member of the Albanel Formation of the Mistassini Group. The dolomite beds are considerably contorted and cut by small faults and breccia dikes which are unique in the Mistassini basin.

Odale-ilerouleau-Island Geology.jpg
The bedrock is of the upper Aphebian (1.8 b.y.) Mistassini group which in turn is covered by (< 1.75 m.y.) Pleistocene Glacial deposits. The estimated 300 million year age of the structure was determined by this geological history of the area. Preservation of the structure for it’s the small size, suggests that it is fairly young (Caty 1976). At the estimated time of the impact the climate of the area was warm and moist. Severe continental collisions were causing the creation of mountains like the Urals. Ferns, fern-like trees and primitive conifers were among flora found in swamps and insects like cockroaches, flourished. Toward the end of this period, the first reptiles appeared.
The size of the Ile Rouleau structure is illustrate by the circle around the island. Note the small shoal at the 2 o'clock position of the circle.
Ile Rouleau has a 1 km diameter circular shape (most of the 4 km diameter structure is under the waters of Lake Mistassini) with a glacial tail pointing southwest. The structure does not appear to be closely related to the intersection of any major faults since no diatreme dikes, carbonatite bodies, or fenite zones are known in the Mistassini area. Ile Rouleau may be the exhumed central part of a somewhat larger structure, the rest of which lies under Lake Mistassini. The rocks of Ile Rouleau do not appear to be any more resistant to erosion than others of the local formation.
Planar deformation features in quartz, an indicator of impact.
Several fragments within the breccia from the Ile Rouleau Impact Structure contain silty quartz grains. Many of these show planar deformation features. A few grains show multiple sets of features. These features were caused by the passage of a shock wave from impactor contact through the country rock that changes the structure of some of the minerals. This photograph is of a 0.03 mm thick and 1 mm across grain of quartz from the structure. The shock wave has produced several different sets of planar features, called shock lamellae. The occurrence of multiple sets of planar lamellae is a diagnostic feature of shock metamorphism (Image and Data Courtesy Denis W. Roy).
Shatter-cone from the Ile Rouleau Impact Structure (Image and Data Courtesy Denis W. Roy).
Shatter-cones are particularly well developed along the eastern and southwestern portion of the island. The micritic and argillaceous dolomite is favourable to their formation and all cone axis appear to point inward from around the island. The shatter-cones appear to be restricted to Ile Rouleau, as do the tectonic disturbances and the breccia dikes. Shatter-cones are one of the features produced by meteorite impacts most easily observed in the field. They are conical fractures generally produced in fine-grained rocks. Longitudinal striae with horsetail patterns, decorate the fracture surfaces. Complete cones in the structure are rare; segments of cones are common and frequently intersect each other. The angle of the apex of the cone is typically about 90 degrees, and they are 1 centimetre to 5 metres high. They can occur singly, or in clusters, and are produced during the impact when a shock-wave passes through the rock. The apex of the cone originally pointed towards the point of impact. Their orientation is usually changed by the post impact crater wall slump. Shatter-cones are positive evidence of a nearby meteorite impact, as they cannot be produced by other means, except nuclear explosions.

Aerial Exploration

The Ile Rouleau impact structure is circled at the south end of Lake Mistassini. The “arc” of Lake Mistassini (illustrated in this ISS image) is on the “front” of the Grenville Orogenesis.
Lake Mistassini is also on the divide between the James Bay and Atlantic Watershed.
The Ile Rouleau impact structure is circled at the south end of Lake Mistassini.
When I explored the impact structure from my airplane, I approached the Ile Rouleau meteorite crater from the south. Here the “arc” of Lake Mistassini is obvious and the crater remnant (circled) is just visible next to Ile Manitounouc.

The Ile Rouleau Impact Structure resembles the Slate Island structure in appearance only as they are both islands. But unlike its Slate Island counterpart, the Ile Rouleau structure is not the remnant of a central peak. It may have been elevated by some extraordinary localized event in the recent past.

Ile Rouleau illustrated on an aeronautical chart.
This image taken from the south east shows Ile Rouleau as the small island in the background and illustrates the 4 km diameter of the structure to be within the western arc of the coast of Ile Manitounouc (foreground). The outcrops of this western arc have suffered no more deformation than is normal in the Mistassini Basin but the arcuate shape of Ile Manitounouc’s western shore interfacing Ile Rouleau is suggestive.
Ile Rouleau from 2000' AGL.
The size of the structure becomes evident when we fly counter-clockwise around the island to the north-west (image). It is estimated that the center of the impact structure is on Ile Rouleau, and its diameter can be approximated by the shore of Ile Manitounouc in the background to directly under the airplane in the foreground. The island is crudely comma shaped. The round part of the comma (1 km in diameter) is ringed by cliffs 7 to 15 m high on the north and east shores, with a low rocky shoreline on the west side. The tip of the comma is a tail of glacial debris pointing to the southwest, and the center of the island is heavily bush covered.
Cliffs on the north shore of Ile Rouleau.
Numerous small faults are exposed along the shoreline, none of which appear to have a large displacement. At least two thrust faults are exposed in the northeast corner (image) of the island, where high cliffs expose structures of low dip. Several small normal faults are also present in these cliffs.
The rocky western shore of Ile Rouleau.
Shatter-cones are particularly well developed along the eastern and south-western portions of the island. This image illustrates the ruggedness of the east coast where a large number of these shatter-cones were discovered. Also note the clarity of the water in Lake Mistassini.

The results of the preliminary study of the Ile Rouleau Impact Structure suggest strongly that it is an astroblem (Caty 1976). This conclusion is based on:

  • The general circular form of the bedrock of the Island;
  • The general contorted and faulted aspect of the bedrock;
  • The presence and radial orientation of breccia dikes;
  • The presence of planar features in quartz;
  • The presence of shatter cones and their apparent orientation upward and inward towards the center of the island, and;
  • The absence of features that could be related to an endogenic process.

Ground Exploration of the Isle Rouleau Impact Structure

Following my impact crater exploration tradition, in the summer of 2007 I finally set foot on the Isle Rouleau Impact Structure. I was able to accomplish this with the help of my exploration partner, Eric Kujala (who has accompanied me on many other exploration trips).

The exploration route we took in Lake Mistassini is traced in red on the google-earth representation.
Our canoe trip initiated from the village of Baie-du-Poste and it was a day and a half traveling time by canoe to the Isle Rouleau Impact Structure. We were very fortunate with the weather, as had there been any increase in the wind velocity the trip would easily have taken a day or so longer each way. The canoe was at maximum load for the trip.
This shoal near Ile Rouleau in Lake Mistassini could possibly be the crater rim.
As we approached the structure from the north-east, we documented a shoal which is approximately a kilometre (~0.6 mile) from Isle Rouleau. The shoal may be associated with the crater rim (my hypothesis only). Unfortunately, the shoal was deeply covered with glacial erratic rocks and I was unable to view any bedrock at the site. I was hoping to see signs of an impact here, but to no avail.
Cliff on the north shore of Ile Rouleau. Shatter cones were found here.
Our first landfall on the impact structure was at the cliff on the north-east coast of the Isle Rouleau. I would estimate the height of the cliff at approximately 15 metres (~50 feet). A breccia dyke, associated with impact shear in the target bedrock, is visible as the dark line in the lower right of the cliff image. The target rocks are 1.8 Ga old Proterozoic aphebian sediments, with Isle Rouleau consisting of argillaceous and micritic dolomite of the Albanel Formation of the Mistassini Group (Grieve 2006).
Impact shatter cones of the Ile Rouleau structure.
Impact breccia from the Ile Rouleau structure.
There are many loose shatter cones at the base of our landfall cliff. Shatter cones are shock-deformation features that form from impact pressures of typically 2-10 GPa up to ~30 GPa. They represent the only distinctive and unique shock-deformation feature that develops on a megascopic scale (e.g., hand sample to outcrop scale). They appear in outcrops as distinctively curved striated fractures that typically form partial or complete conical structures (image). They are commonly found beneath impact crater floors, usually in the central uplifts of complex impact structures, but they may also be observed in isolated rock fragments within brecciated units.

After circumnavigating Isle Rouleau and upon our return to Baie-du-Poste, we had an interview with the government geologist posted there. We had an excellent conversation regarding the local geology (and we did brag a bit about our explorations!). She was gracious enough to give us a sample of breccia that she had recovered from the Isle Rouleau site. Thank you!

After our successful exploration of the Isle Rouleau Impact Structure, we headed south to explore the Presqu’ile Impact Structure.


Caty, J. L., Chown, E.H. and Roy,D.W., A new astrobleme: Ile Rouleau structure, Lake Mistassini, Quebec. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 13, pp. 824-831. 1976.

Grieve, Richard A.F., Impact Structures in Canada. Geological Association of Canada, 2006.

Hamill, B. J.: A MULTIPLE IMPACT EVENT AT THE END OF THE CARBONIFEROUS. 66th Annual Meteoritical Society Meeting, 2003.

Images and Data courtesy of Denis W. Roy, MIAC)

Earth Impact Database

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