Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

How can I tell if I have found an impact crater?

There are many natural processes other than impacts that can create circular features and depressions on the surface of the Earth. Examples include glaciation, volcanism, sinkholes, atolls, salt domes, intrusions, and hydrothermal explosions (to name just a few). Prehistoric mines and quarries are also sometimes mistaken for impact craters.

Although the USGS has been involved in impact crater research, we are neither the experts nor the ultimate authority on impact craters. Canada’s University of New Brunswick Planetary and Space Science Center is the best resource for confirming a structure as an impact crater. They maintain an Earth Impact Database and provide guidelines for identification of impact craters. 

Learn more: This Dynamic Planet: World Map of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Impact Craters, and Plate Tectonics