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The syllabus for this course discusses several points,
including how the course is different from an
engineering course, how it is related to engineering
disciplines, why engineering students should take the
course, the course objectives, topics to be covered, class
attendance policy, and how grades will be determined.
Keep in mind especially the following points:
(1) The course outline on page iv is only a guide. We may
or may not complete the topics listed for certain
weekProthero and Schwab, 2014omplete all topics by the
end of the course. If I travel out of town, the class will be
taught either by one of my colleagues or a graduate
teaching assistant.
(2) Students will be placed in teams and will help with
setting questions for the four exams that will comprise
60% of the course grade. I will send out the question
guidelines to be used by each team. My questions will be
added for exams, but will not be seen by students ahead of
(3) One Friday afternoon, April 24, has been set aside for
a field trip to a location within the Rolla City limits. This
is a compulsory exercise. If you have to work or have
another lab on that day, please inform your supervisor or
instructor about this trip ahead of time. Every team will
write a field trip report, which will constitute 10% of the
course grade.
(4) I take class attendance very seriously. Inform me by
either e-mail if you will not be in class. I reserve the right
to drop any student who misses four class periods without
prior permission.
(5) I will use Blackboard to post messages, assignments,
question guidelines, students quiz questions, and send
out e-mails. Check Blackboard and your emails daily.
(6) I will use videotapes to complement some topics in
this course, such as deltas and reefs.
(7) I hope we will all have fun together in this course.
Email when you have questions.

Sedimentary rocks cover 66% of continental surface, and

most of the ocean floor is covered by at least a thin layer
of sediment. The analyses of these rocks involve
descriptive and interpretative aspects. Stratigraphy is a
very important discipline because many of the earth's
natural resources occur in stratified rocks. There are three
main subdisciplines, each of which is based on one of the
basic principles of stratigraphy (Fig. 1.1). With the
exception of uniformitarianism (below), the other
principles will be discussed at a later lecture. Historical
geology is founded on the principle of uniformitarianism
(James Hutton, 1795), and it states that the processes
responsible for ancient geological phenomena are
essentially the same as those operating today. Simply put,
it means, "The present is the key to the past" =
Actualism. This phrase was coined by Sir Archibald
Geikie but made popular by Charles Lyell. All three
subdisciplines of stratigraphy are used to arrive at four
biostratigraphy, geochronology and chronostratigraphy.





Faunal Succession



Figure 1.1. Subdisciplines of stratigraphy.

Please read Chapter 1 in the textbook for introductory

statements regarding to the following aspects of describing
sedimentary rocks (Table 1.1, p. 5 in the textbook):
(1) Color: A reflection of composition.
(2) Composition: siliciclastic, carbonate, etc.
(3) Texture: Grain size, roundness, sphericity, surface
features, etc.
(4) Sedimentary structures.
(5) Fossil content.
(6) Sedimentary rock geometry.
For interpretative purposes, another set of questions
is tackled, which give a stratigraphic perspective of the
rocks. These include but are not limited to the following
(Table 1.2, p. 10 in the textbook):


This course is organized in such a way as to

facilitate the understanding of the following: (1)
Sedimentological processes, (2) Sedimentary petrology
(origin of sedimentary rocks), and (3) Stratigraphy
(sedimentary rock distribution through space and time).

(1) Correlation and stratigraphy.

(2) Provenance or source of sediments or fossils.
(3) Dispersal: Erosion and transportation from source.
(4) Transporting agent and depositional setting.
(5) Paleogeography and sedimentary tectonics.
(6) Diagenesis: Post-depositional changes.

We will spend two months discussing the
composition of sedimentary rocks, diagenesis, and the
major categories sedimentary environments. The course
will end by focusing on the techniques used for
interpreting stratigraphy, namely lithostratigraphy,
biostratigraphy, geochronology, chronostratigraphy,
magnetostratigraphy, stable isotope stratigraphy, seismic
and sequence stratigraphy, and basin analysis.

(hydrous aluminosilicates), and iron-rich sediments.

Examples of chemical rocks include some limestones,
dolomite, halite, and gypsum.

Mineralogy of Sediments

Biogenic. Biogenic sedimentary rocks are composed of

either skeletal particles (e.g., calcareous or siliceous
remains of foraminifera, coccolithophores, echinoderms,
diatoms, radiolarians, green and red algae), or plant debris
(leaves twigs, pollen, spores and tree trunks). Examples of
biogenic rocks are chalk, diatomite, radiolarite and coal.

terrigenous, detrital, clastic or siliciclastic particles are
mainly composed of quartz, potassium feldspar,
plagioclase feldspar, clay minerals, rock fragments and
accessory minerals, especially heavies. Examples include
garnet, rutile. zircon, kyanite, olivine, and pyroxene.
These particles form sandstones, conglomerates, shales,
and siltstones, which can be either extrabasinal or

A fourth category includes all clastic sedimentary rocks

that are produced by processes other than physical and
chemical weathering of pre-existing rocks. The major
varieties of this group are subdivided on the basis of the
mechanism by which the clasts are produced. Principal
types include pyroclastics (generated by explosive
igneous activity), meteoritics (produced by the impact of
extraterrestrial bodies), and cataclastics (related to
collapse or tectonism) (Prothero and Schwab, 2014).

Chemical. These are chemically precipitated from

solution. They include evaporites, non-skeletal carbonates
(intraclasts, ooids, pellets), chert, phosphate, zeolites

Reading Assignment: The Earths Sedimentary Shell

(p. 12-17 in the textbook).

Sediments and sedimentary rocks would not exist
without weathering. This process involves the
erosion, and subsequent transportation and
redeposition of pre-existing igneous, metamorphic
and sedimentary rocks. The process by which rocks
weather depends on: (a) source composition, (b)
climate, (c) drainage, (d) topographic relief, and (e)
relative rates of physical and chemical weathering.
Physical or Mechanical weathering: This process
occurs mostly by the action of water. It is very
important in temperate regions. In freeze-thaw
action, water increases in volume by 9-10% when it
freezes. This expansion exerts great force when
water freezes in cracks and pores of rocks. This
process can cause rapid mechanical breakdown of
rocks. Insolation refers to stresses generated when
minerals are exposed to changing temperatures,
which result in differential thermal expansion and
contraction. This process is common in arid
environments, such as the Sahara and Mohave
Deserts. Stress release occurs when rocks buried
beneath overlying material experience high confining
pressures. If overburden is removed, pressure drops
and the rocks expand, resulting in cracks. Organic
activity (e.g., plant roots, microscopic organisms)
can promote physical and chemical weathering.
Other forms of mechanical weathering include
the abrasive action of water (and whatever is carried
by the water) and the action of glaciers. Exfoliation
and spheroidal weathering ultimately result from a
combination of physical weathering processes.
Chemical weathering: This is far more important
than physical weathering, and is enhanced by the
latter. This is because mechanical break-up of rocks
at the Earth's surface increases surface area open to
chemical action.

First to Weather
Mg Pyroxene
Ca-Mg Pyroxene
Last to Weather

The reactivity of these minerals is related to the types

of chemical bonds that form between the component
elements and oxygen. Bonding of Si and Al with O
is dominantly covalent. Bonding of Na, Ca, Mg, and
K with O is ionic. Ionic bonds are more easily broken
down by dipolar molecules such as water. Minerals
high in Bowen's reaction series have a higher
percentage of soluble elements. The processes of
hydrolysis, and oxidation-reduction. Check pages 2123 of the textbook for details of these reactions.
Products of chemical alteration
Rain water charged with atmospheric carbon dioxide
becomes acidic:

2H +CO32
Other sources of H include organic acid produced
by biological activity.
Reaction of carbonic acid or organic acids with
3KAlSi3O8+2H +12H2O

KAl3Si3O10(OH)2 +6H4SiO4+2K



Further reaction of illite with acid:

2KAl3Si3O10(OH)2+2H +3H2O




The chemical weathering of common igneous minerals

results in the following products:

Na smectite
soluble silica
soluble Na ions


Ca smectite
soluble silica
soluble Ca ions


Ca smectite
soluble silica
Ca , Na , Mg ions, &
FeO(OH) (limonite)
limonite further weathers:2FeO(OH)


Mg ions
smaller quartz grains!

Table 2.1 (on page 4) shows some weathering products

that form sediments.


Shales, siltstones, mudstones, matrix
in sandstones; also argillaceous
components in carbonates
Bedded cherts, siliceous fossils
(diatoms, radiolarians, etc.) and silica
Hematite stains (Fe2O3), iron stone,
iron formation
+ Evaporites including gypsum, anhydrite
Ca & Na
and halite
2+ Carbonates including limestones and
Ca & Mg
Sandstones, siltstones, silt and sand
component of other sedimentary rocks
Table 2.1. Partial list of weathering products and the
sediments that they form.

Accumulations of weathered material on the Earths
surface are referred to as soils. They can be thin or
several meters thick. Soils consist of weathered bedrock
material, organic material added by living organisms,
and additional chemical elements that move through the
soil in ground water. Several processes aid the
formation of soils:
(1) Plants and animals interact with the sediment,
absorbing nutrients and leaving behind their wastes and
(2) Burrowing organisms (ants, worms, rodents, etc.)
churn the soil, thereby altering it from that of freshly
weathered sediment.
(3) Rainwater percolates through the sediment and
moves chemical elements though the soil. Laterites
form in tropical soils.
Zone of leaching:
Zone of accumulation:
Not all soils have the idealized pattern shown in Figure
2.1 and tremendous variations do occur. For example:
Pedalfer soils:

Pedocal soils:
Laterite soils:

Figure 2.1. Typical soil profile

Paleosols are fossil soils that have been buried and
preserved in ancient rocks. They have been used to
reconstruct ancient climates and vegetation pattern,
especially in the absence of other proxies. They have
been used to infer the existence of organisms for which
there are no body fossils (e.g. millipedes). Since they
are surfaces of weathering and erosion, they often mark
unconformities. They can be recognized in the field
because of enrichment of organic matter and also
reddish iron oxides that become more intense in color
toward the top, noticeable decrease in weathered
minerals toward the top, and disruption of bedding by
organic activity. The various paleosols identified in the
literature include platy, prismatic, columnar, angular
blocky, subangular blocky, crumb, and granular. Read
the textbook (p. 27-30) for more details.


eroded of all clastic particles. Also, clays are difficult to

move once they settle because of their electrolytic
properties. They occur as floccules and aggregates.
However, cohesion-less particles do not have electrolytic
properties because of their larger sizes. Secondly, they
lack cements.

Clastic particles are transported to their depositional

environments from source areas by way of (a) dry,
gravity-driven mass wasting processes (avalanches, rock
falls); (b) wet, gravity-assisted processes (grain flows,
turbidity flows); and (c) processes that involve direct fluid
flows of air, water, and ice. Although mass wasting
processes move soil and rock debris only short distances
down-slope, they get the weathered products into the
longer-distance sediment transport system.
Fluid Flow: In Theory and In Nature
Read p. 34-36 in the textbook and write down the salient
points on the opposite page.
Entrainment of Sediments
Two main forces (Fig. 3.1) are usually involved in
picking up particles. The fluid drag force (FD) exerts a
horizontal force that is parallel to the flow on the particle
and rolls it along. The fluid lift force (FL) raises the
particle vertically into the current. The net fluid force
(FF) on the particle is therefore, a result of the horizontal
fluid drag vector (FD) and the vertical lift vector (FL).
This produces a net movement upstream or downstream.
Define Bernouillis principle below or on opposite page.

Figure 3.2. Hjulstrms diagram showing the relationship

between current velocity and particle size (from Press and
Siever, 1986).

Transport and Deposition

Movement of particles is affected by several factors,
including the density of particles, density of medium (air,
water), size of particles and rate of shear stress. Once the
threshold of mobility is reached, particles may be subjected
to any of three continuous or interrupted modes of
transport (Fig. 3.3).
1) Traction or rolling:
2) Saltation:

3) Suspension:

Figure 3.1. The forces that act upon a particle on a stream bed.
Although the force of gravity tends to hold the particles down,
the lift and drag force of the fluid tend to pull the particle up off
the streambed and downstream; C.G., center of gravity (from
Prothero and Schwab, 2014).

Figure 3.2 summarizes the flow pattern of particles. It

shows that fine sand is the most easily transported and

Figure 3.3. Modes of transport of clastic particles (from Prothero

and Schwab, 2014).

The capacity of air to transport by saltation or
suspension is poor because of its very low density and
viscosity in comparison with water. This deficiency is
compensated for by (a) frequently very high velocities
and (b) high amplitudes of upward movements resulting
from impacts of particles. The three populations of
sediments (i.e., traction, saltation and suspension) may
be recognized on frequency cumulative curves.
The drag force of the current and settling velocity
of the particle determine the distance the particle
travels. The velocity with which the clast settles
through a fluid is calculated using Stoke's law of
settling (see page 10 of class notes, and p. 39-40 in
textbook textbook for detailed description).

Liquefied flows. Some subaqueous sands may have their

fabric destroyed as a result of a sudden event
(earthquake, volcanic explosion, etc.) that causes
liquefaction. The cohesionless particles dilate, lose
excessive pore pressure and are dispersed as suspended
matter in water, thus acting like a viscous fluid.
Liquefied flows can move along very low-angle slopes
as long as the carrying liquid cannot escape to the top.
Turbidity flows. These are characterized by suspension
of particles in a turbulently flowing liquid. The flows
represent dense liquid masses within which horizontal
and vertical sorting take place as a function of:

Flows of Sedimentary Particles

Sediments and sediment-filled fluids flow under the
direct influence of gravity. Gravitational mass flows
occur suddenly in areas of notable submarine relief and
in thick sedimentary accumulations. There are five
main types of sediment gravity processes (Fig. 3.4).

Graded bedding is common. Turbidity currents may move
over long distances on surfaces with little or no

Slumps. Large masses of sediment may move down

slope as a result of shear planes with in the mass. They
retain their internal cohesion (e.g., stratification) but are
deformed by convolutions (folding) or growth faults.
Note: Shear is a type of deformation in which planes in
a body remain parallel but are relatively displaced in a
direction parallel to themselves; i.e., adjacent planes
can slide over each other.
Grain flows. Grain-to-grain interactions support
sediments by "dispersive pressure". In such cases, water
may be absent, as in sandy avalanches. Movement may
be initiated when slopes are greater than the natural
angle of stability in subaqueous or subaerial
environments. Inverse graded bedding can develop
during movement through either (a) differential friction
close to the bottom or (b) downward migration of finer
particles between the coarser ones. Dispersive forces
are weak intermolecular forces.
Debris flows. These occur in poorly sorted masses of
sediment (silt to cobble size) carried by silty-clayey
aqueous matrix of a larger proportion. Such masses
behave like a paste with lumps, and can originate
subaerially and subaqueously on rather gentle slopes.
They can flow over long distances without becoming
appreciably sorted, e.g., avalanches.

Figure 3.4. Common types of gravitational sedimentary flows.

Sedimentary structures are among the most useful tools
for studying the sedimentary record, and they can be of
physical, chemical or biological origins. Sedimentary
structures can also be depositional, post-depositional or
due to the effects of erosion. Sediments are normally
transported by the methods described in the last lecture.
Bedding is a combination of grain size, composition,
shape, orientation, packing and, occasionally, color.
Bedding can also be created in chemical precipitates and
bioclastic materials. Beds or strata or layers are >1 cm
but laminae are <1 cm. They could be plane or
horizontal, inclined, unidirectional or multidirectional
(Fig. 4.1). All bedding types are affected by flow
velocity, while unconformities result from erosion and
break in sedimentation.

Hummocky cross-stratification. Curving laminations with

convex-up boundaries (hummocks) and concave-up
boundaries (swales). Some stratigraphers now treat
swaley cross-stratification as a separate sedimentary
structure. Both are common in shallow marine (shoreface)
Herringbone cross-stratification. Tidally-influenced bidirectional cross-bedding.
Planar and trough cross-bedding. These represent ripple
laminations on a larger scale, and they are planar and
trough-shaped respectively when viewed in threedimension (see Fig. 4.3).
Graded bedding. Common in interbedded sandstone/
mudstone sequences as an assemblage of grain size
changes and sedimentary structures, which are diagnostic
of depositional processes; e.g., Bouma turbidite sequence.
Graded bedding also occurs in conglomerates, breccias
and gravels and it may be reversed, especially in
Note: Learn the definitions of some of the other types of
bedding, which include: interference ripples, wavy
bedding, sole marks, and flute casts.

Figure 4.1 Bedding patterns.


Depositional structures of Sandstones and Siltstones

Depositional structures can be affected by the type of
bedding in the sediment. Sorting can lead to parallel or
subparallel bedding, as in beaches. Ripples are more or
less regularly spaced undulations on the sediment or
bedding surfaces. However, the internal lamination that
results from the migration of ripples is referred to as
cross-lamination or bedding. Cross-lamination may be
symmetric or asymmetric. Figure 4.2 shows several
examples of depositional structures described below.
Flat or horizontal bedding. Beds deposited just as the
names imply (without inclination).
Climbing ripple cross-lamination. Inclined bedding with
nonerosive boundaries between the bed sets.
Lenticular bedding. Isolated lenses of sand ripples
formed when fine-grained sediment dominates.
Flaser bedding. Formed where muddy sediment occurs
as thin and discontinuous laminae, which drape ripple
Dunes and megaripples. Formed in coarser-grained
sands at higher flow or wind velocities; antidunes form
when velocities are very high. Dunes and ripples are
quite common in eolian sediments.

Figure 4.2. Examples of vertical arrangement of basic

sedimentary structures. A Inclined bedding: 1 subparallel (with
cross laminations); 2 inclined and crossed (cross-bedding); 3
herring-bone cross-bedding; 4 hummocky cross-bedding. B
bedding with episodic intercalations: 5 fine-grained material (in
black) in coarser sediment (flaser bedding); 6 lenticular bedding.
C normal size-graded bedding: 7 in strict sense, without finegrained admixtures at base;8 in wider sense, with ubiquitous
fine-grained matrix (N.B. the same situation developed in
reverse graded-bedding) (from Collinson and Thompson, 1989).

Mud cracks:
Chemically induced structures. These are mostly
concretions or nodules that are due to localized processes
of precipitation. They may contain fossils and are usually
calcitic. Some of them may be composed of dolomite,
hematite, silica, pyrite, siderite or even an evaporite.
Concretions roughly follow bedding and while many of
them are centered on fossils, others follow burrows and

Figure 4.3. Definition diagram for the basic types of crossbedding. The middle and basal cosets show planar and trough
cross-bedding, respectively (from Collinson and Thompson,

Depositional structures in mudstones

Biogenic structures. The study of biogenic structures or

trace fossils is called ichnology. Trace fossils are
represented by burrows, borings, tracks, trails, resting
places, fecal pellets, etc. They are usually found where
body fossils are absent and help to record behavioral,
ecological and sedimentological events (see Fig. 4.5 on
page 9). Diagenesis does not destroy them and they are insitu. Figure 4.6 illustrates the common trace fossils and
paleoenvironmental and paleoecological analyses by
sedimentologists and paleontologists.

X-ray photographs of cores can reveal these nonobvious structures that are mostly on a small scale.
Shales and micaceous siltstones have very fine
laminations, which lead to fissility. Some mudstones
have very fine "stripped" appearance of alternating
lighter and darker layers (about 1 mm to a few
centimeters thick).
Structures due to deformation and disturbance
Physically induced structures. These can result from
overpressure or undercompaction, which can lead to
liquefaction and fluidization. Examples include (Fig.
Load casts:

Ball-and-pillow structures:

Flame structures:

Figure 4.4 Examples of synsedimentary mechanical deformation

Convolute bedding:

(A-D) and post-depositional (E) structures. A, Load structures,

B, ball-and-pillow structures; C, convolute bedding; D, dish
structures; E, polygonal mud cracks resulting from (a) subaerial
desiccation and (b) subaqueous synaeresis (from Chamley,

Figure 4.5 Relation between types of bioturbation and hydrodynamic conditions of deposition a, intensely
bioturbated argillaceous silt, trace fossils compressed and almost unrecognizable; b, fine-grained sand,
intermediate stage; c, coarser-grained sand with preserved sedimentary structures, trace fossils usually
recognizable (from Chamley, 1990).

Figure 4.6. Summary diagram of the most common trace fossils and ichnofacies. Traces numbered as follows:
1 = Caulostrepsis; 2 = Entobia; 3 = unnamed echinoid borings; 4 = Trypanites; 5, 6 = Gastrochaenolites or related
ichnogenera; 7 = Diplocraterion; 8 = Psilonichnus; 9 = Skolithos; 10 = Diplocraterion; 11 = Thalasinoides; 12 =
Arenicolites; 13 = Ophiomorpha; 14 = Phycodes; 15 = Rhizocorallium; 16 = Teichichnus; 17 = Crossopodia; 18 =
Asteriacites; 19 = Zoophycos; 20 = Lorenzinia; 21 = Zoophycos; 22 = Paleodictyon; 23 = Taphrhelminthopsis; 24 =
Helminthoida; 25 = Spirorhaphe; 26 Cosmorhaphe (from Frey and Pemberton, 1984).


Different siliciclastic rocks warrant different methods of
quantitative analyses. For example, grain size analysis of
conglomerates differs from those of sandstones. Large
clast sizes of conglomerates permit fabric, grain surface
features, grain shape, and grain roundness to be studied in
the field.

Settling tube analysis: Used for particles <50 m (shales),

it is governed by Stoke's law of settling:

= ([rs - rf] gd2)

Where V = settling velocity (cm/s); rs = density of solid

(g/cc); rf = density of fluid; g = acceleration due to

gravity (cm/sec2); = viscosity of fluid (centipoise); d =

diameter of grain (cm2). The settling tube works well for
fine-grained perfect spheres, and for static settling. The
problems associated with this method include:
Grain size. This is measured in terms of diameter or (a)
volume, and the former is what is commonly used. The
techniques used are as follows:
Calipers: Used for measuring grains larger than 1 cm
(usually conglomerate).
Sieve analysis: Used for grains 1 cm to 50 m. This
involves stacking up several sieves, with the finest (d)
diameter at the bottom, and the data so derived are shown
in Figure 5.1. The problems encountered with this method (e)
are incompleteness of sieving, and disaggregation.
For grains <50 m, instruments utilizing photoelectric
sensors, sedigraphs, lasers and x-ray beams are now being
Because of a wide range of sediment sizes present, a
geometric or log scale is used for grain size classification.
Known as Udden-Wenthworth grain size scale (Table 5.1),
Krumbein (1934) proposed the log scale F = -log 2d where
d is diameter (mm). The log scale eliminates fractions and
simplifies statistical calculations and graphic plots.

Figure 5.1. Sieve analysis example. (A) Histogram. (B)

Frequency curve. (C) Cumulative curve with standard arithmetic
scale. (D) Cumulative curve with probability scale.
Table 5.1. Standard size classes of sediments

Standard deviation: The sorting value or uniformity in
grain size within a sediment sample. Steep cumulative
curves indicate good sorting while broad, flat curves
The data obtained are usually in the form of weight indicate poor sorting. Visual estimates are shown in
percentages of each size class. They may be plotted as a Figure 5.2 on page 12.
histogram or a frequency curve (see Fig. 5.1.). Geologists
usually plot the cumulative frequency curve or a Skewness: Measure of asymmetry in the population. This is
probability curve on which percentiles can be read off caused by a shift of the mode to the left (positive skew,
directly from the graph. Four statistical parameters, called excess fine particles) or right (negative skew, excess coarse
methods of moment, are commonly used. These are the particles).
mean (statistical average), standard deviation, skewness
and kurtoses, in addition to the median (50th percentile: Kurtosis: Peakedness of a frequency curve. Measures the
grain size in the middle of the population), and the mode relationship between the sorting in the central portion of the
curve to that in the tails.
(the most frequently occurring grain size) (Table 5.2).
Statistical Analysis of Grain Size Data

Table 5.2. Formulas and verbal scales for graphic size parameters (from Folk and Ward, 1957).


Figure 5.2. Classification of sorting values as seen through a

microscope (from Compton, 1962).

Grain Shape
Differences in grain shapes result from variations in a
combination of internal structure, and the origin and
history of the particles. Shape can have an incredible
bearing on the porosity of a rock. Are the clasts
equidimensional (equant)? Are they disk-like sheets or Figure 5.3. Standard images of roundness and sphericity used for
flakes? Are they needle-like (prismatic) or elongate? quantitative estimates of grain shape (from Powers, 1953).
Open packing enhances higher permeability while close
packing is associated with low permeability.
Textural Maturity

Surface Textures
Surface textures are affected by physical and chemical
phenomena. They are expressed as abrasion, corrosion,
faceted surfaces, frosted surfaces, polished surfaces,
overgrowths, etc. Striations are common features of
gravels deposited by glacial activity.


chemically mature STABLE

immature UNSTABLE


clay content









Color is one of the most noticeable features of
sedimentary rocks in the field. It is often an expression
of the chemistry of the rock, and may vary when wet or
dry conditions prevail. Therefore, it is not a reliable
index of identification.


Roundness (Angularity). This is an index of abrasion.

Figure 5.3 shows visual estimates of roundness. It is an
important phenomenon because it also influences
porosity and hydrodynamic properties (e.g., settling
velocity, erosional susceptibility). Roundness and
sphericity may not be related in any given particle. For
example, a hot dog is rounded but not spherical while a
cube is angular but spherical.

This is a general term that refers to the effect of the

transport and depositional processes on the resulting
sedimentary rock. Mature sediments tend to have been in
the transport and depositional system longer than immature
sediments. Note that textural maturity can be described in
terms of fundamental properties of the sediment or rock
(Fig. 5.4; Table 5.3, p. 13). Textural maturity affects
porosity and permeability.



Figure 5.4. Mineralogical vs. textural maturity.


Sphericity. Sphericity denotes how close a particle

approaches a perfect sphere (Fig. 5.3). Equant grains
(whether they be cubes or spheres) have high sphericity;
those with one or more dimensions of unequal length
have low sphericity. It is more strongly influenced by the
origin of the particle than is roundness; e.g.,




Poorly sorted (grain size

is not uniform).

Relatively well sorted

(grains tend to be of a
uniform size).
Grains mainly composed
of quartz.
Grains are rounded and
have high sphericity.
Grains are relatively
tightly packed.

High clay, feldspar and

rock fragment content.
Grains are angular and
have low sphericity.
Grains tend to be loosely

Table 5.3. Immature vs. mature sandstones.

Would you expect texturally mature or immature rock to

have better porosity and permeability? Why?


Conglomerates are lithified gravel made up of
rounded to subangular clasts whose diameters
exceed 2 mm. Breccias are lithified rubbles made
up of angular clasts coarser than 2 mm. Because
these rocks constitute 1-2% of sedimentary rocks
and generally lack fossils, they are not as
extensively treated as sandstones and carbonates
in the literature.
Rock fragments are the dominant constituents
of conglomerates and breccias. Quartz is the most
abundant major mineral, while others such as Kfeldspar, micas, and heavies (e.g., zircon,
amphibole, olivine, magnetite) occur as accessory
minerals. The rocks are classified using
framework-to-matrix ratio, stability of the
framework, clast lithology, clast size, and overall
fabric. Table 5.2 and Figure 5.5 on page 76-77 in
the textbook show the schemes best suited for
classifying conglomerates and breccias. The two
broad categories of extraformational and
intraformational varieties are based on the
provenance of the clasts.
Grain composition is used to differentiate
different types of sandstone. Components are as
Grains: Including quartz grains, feldspar grains
(usually K-feldspar), and rock fragments or
labile fragments (chert, multimineralic grains,
volcanic glass, etc.).
Matrix: Silt and clay sized material deposited
with the larger grains. (Or produced by the

diagenetic breakdown of clastic feldspar and

rock fragment grains.
Cement: Authigenic mineral material that is
deposited between clastic grains during
diagenesis. May form some of the binding
material that holds the sandstone together. May
include quartz or other silica minerals such as
opal or chert, carbonates, hematite, authigenic
clay minerals (which is difficult to distinguish
from clastic clay minerals that are deposited as
Sandstone has had a rather long history of
classification styles, with inputs from Pettijohn
(1949, 1957), Krynine (1948), McBride (1963),
Dott (1964) and Folk (1968). Classification of
sandstones is most convenient using ternary
(triangular) diagrams that categorize sandstone
according to grain (quartz, feldspar, rock
fragment) composition. A fourth member, clay
mineral, has now been incorporated in the
classification scheme (Fig. 6.1). Two commonly
used classifications are McBride (1963) and Folk
(1974). The Dott (1964) classification is the
most applicable to hand specimen work. Folk
and McBride are more useful with thin section
work. Mineralogical composition and textural
characteristics of sandstones can be used as
maturity indices (see Fig. 5.4, p. 12).
Arenite: A sandstone with a relatively low
matrix content. A quartz arenite is composed
of greater than 95% (90% in Dott's
classification) quartz grains.
Wacke: A sandstone with a relatively high
matrix content. A graywacke is a sandstone
largely composed of quartz and feldspar grains
with a large volume of clay matrix.
Arkose: A feldspathic sandstone referred to as a
feldspathic arenite in Dott's classification.

Figure 6.1. Sandstone classification of Dott (1964).

Terrigenous mudrocks are the most common
sedimentary rocks, making up 50-80% of Earth's total
sedimentary rocks. Their main component is clay,
followed by silt-sized particles (of mainly quartz).
They are difficult to classify because of their fine
grain sizes and apparent homogeneity. By definition
shales are composed of 66.67% or more clay
minerals and 33.33% other (usually silt sized) clastic
minerals. In contrast, siltstones are composed of
>33.33% silt sized clastic minerals. Mudstone is
indurated mud in a mixture of silt with between onethird and two-thirds clay. Shale is a mudrock with
fissility or lamination or both. Argillite is a mudrock
that has been subjected to low-grade metamorphism.
Clastic particle sizes are controlled by water
energy (currents and wave action). The higher the
energy of the depositional environment the coarser
the grain size of the sediment because the finer
material will be held in suspension. Sedimentary
structures such as bedding, ripples, and cross bedding
are also related to currents and wave action in
depositional environment.
Fissility in shale (thin bedding partitions) are most
likely due to reorientation of clay particles during
compaction and diagenesis. Clays commonly are
deposited as flocculates or "randomly oriented globs
or clumps" and are further disturbed by burrowing
organisms soon after deposition. Therefore, fissility
is not a primary sedimentary structure.
Color in shales generally relates to the iron and
carbon content and oxidation state of the shale. The
oxidation state may either relate to the depositional
environment, diagenetic conditions or both. A high
rate of water circulation during sedimentation usually
results in more oxic conditions. Stagnant water
results in anoxic conditions. Large volume of organic
matter deposited with clastic material will result in
anoxic (reducing) conditions during diagenesis
because available oxygen will tend to combine with
carbon in organic matter to form CO2.
Black or dark gray color reduced iron (Fe2+)
sulfide, microcrystalline FeS2 tends to be black.
Sulfur comes from the organic matter. The origin
of black shales is contentious, although most
geologists believe they are indicative of either
anaerobic or dysaerobic conditions. They can be
highly fossiliferous, and have yielded some of
the best well-preserved fossils of reptiles,
insects, trilobites, etc.
Green to gray-green color reducing conditions with
low sulfur (organic) content. Iron generally is
still present but is incorporated into carbonates
such as siderite, ankerite, or ferroan dolomite.

Red to brown color indicates oxidizing conditions.

Iron is present in the form of hematite, Fe2O3, or
limonite, FeO(OH).
It does not take much iron sulfide or iron oxide to
color a rock black or red as the case may be.
How are shales studied? Thin section petrology is
practically useless!! Clays are usually studied using
X-ray diffraction, SEM, and other geochemical
Clays are phyllosilicates (minerals with tightly bonded
sheets of silicate tetrahedra) attached to octahedral
sheets) deposited in modern sedimentary basins:
Smectite weathered especially from mafic volcanic
and plutonic terrain (from weathering of
plagioclase and Fe-Mg minerals).
Illite-smectite (I/S) mixed layer very common,
comprises the bulk of clays deposited in modern
basins, weathered from igneous and sedimentary
Illite "cryptocrystalline mica" micas weathered from
granitic and sedimentary terrain.
Kaolinite less common, sourced from tropical areas
as an alteration product of illite resulting from
lateritic weathering.
Chlorite Occasionally occurs as a component in
mixed layer clays.
In ancient mudrocks the clays are dominantly illite
with increasing chlorite after deep burial diagenesis
(see section 7).
Engineering uses and problems:
Mudrocks tend to be incompetent and prone to slides
and other mass movement on slopes, especially if
water is added to increase the instability. Therefore
ground underlain by shale may make unsuitable sites
for building. Mudrocks, however, may provide
excellent sites for landfills or hazardous waste containment because they tend to be impermeable. The
engineering properties of mudrock depend on the type
of clays involved. Bentonites (altered volcanic ash
beds) are largely composed of smectites and make
very unstable foundations, even on flat ground.
Bentonites, because of their relative impermeabilities
and high absorbencies, make very good barriers to
contaminant flow.



ground water.) Poorly cemented sandstones tend

to be friable, in other words they crumble easily.


Types of cement


Quartz (and other silica) usually (not always)

confined to quartz arenites.

The term "diagenesis" refers to all the physical and

chemical changes that affect sediment after
deposition and burial but before metamorphism,
melting, uplift and erosion. The exact line between
where diagenesis ends and metamorphism begins
depends on the geologist doing the work. Some
diagenetic phenomena are given below, and each
may represent a pre-burial, an early burial or a late
burial stage. Diagenetic processes can alter or
obscure the original sedimentary rock texture,
composition, color, and sedimentary structures,
thus making it impossible to know what such
properties were like originally (Prothero and
Schwab, 2014).

Carbonate calcite (very common), dolomite,

and ankerite (less common) can be detected using
the acid test. These rocks should not be confused
with carbonate rocks.

Clay-Rich mudrocks are typically ~60% water at
the time of deposition and undergo a great deal of
compaction (water is squeezed out). Quartz
sandstone us relatively uncompressible, minor
compaction does occur as sand grains reorient
themselves into tighter packing arrangements
during burial. This results in some porosity loss.
Lithic fragments tend to deform under pressure,
therefore litharenites are somewhat more
compactable than quartz or feldspathic arenites.
Litharenites and wackes can be compacted to
the point where lithic grains and matrix deforms
creating interlocking relationships. This lithifies or
binds the grains together and makes the sediment
into rock. In quartz- and feldspar-rich sandstones,
lithification is largely a cementation process.
In quartz and most feldspathic sandstones grains
are held together by cement. (Mineral matter
precipitated between grains, after deposition, by

Sand grains begin

to disolve due to
pressure (shaded
arrows) at point of

Hematite (sometimes magnetite) gives rock a

red stain (need only about 1% for red color).
Limonite iron hydroxide, gives sandstone a brown
Clay minerals may be authigenic and precipitated
by ground water. This is different from clastically
deposited clay, which is part of the matrix. The
difference can only be determined using petrographic
methods (especially SEM).
Commonly sandstones will contain several types of
cement, for instance a combination of quartz and
carbonate cements is not uncommon.
What other materials can you think of that might act as
cement in sandstone?

Pressure solution in sandstone

Pressure solution may occur at points of contact
between sand grains (Fig. 7.1). Pressure concentrated at
this point increases the solubility of quartz in much the
same way that pressure on an ice-skate blade causes the
ice to melt at the point of contact. Silica that is removed
by solution may be redeposited adjacent to the
dissolved area, increasing the effect of lithification or it
may be removed completely by ground water. Pressure
solution may also dissolve feldspar grains. Lithic
fragments are more likely to undergo deformation
rather that dissolve at the point of contact.

A volume of silica equal to the

shaded area is removed and
may be redeposited as cement.
Resulting grain contact is
represented by dashed line.

Figure 7.1. Schematic representation of pressure solution.

Mineralogical Changes During Diagenesis
Mineralogical changes may occur in sandstone during
diagenesis, especially at elevated temperature and
pressure after burial. Clay minerals in matrix and
precipitated as early cement are especially susceptible
to mineralogical change.
Any calcium rich or calcium containing
plagioclase feldspar that has survived the transport
process and early diagenesis can undergo alteration
during burial. Albitization occurs as calcic plagioclase
is replaced by albite (Na plagioclase). As a result of
this process the plagioclase content of most ancient
sandstones (which is small to start with) is almost
entirely albite.
Diagenesis and porosity and permeability
Most of the changes that occur during diagenesis of
sandstone are destructive to intergranular porosity.
Compaction results in tighter grain packing that
reduces porosity, pressure solution further crowds
Cementation also reduces pore space and restricts pore
throat size, which decreases permeability. The only
diagenetic change that may improve porosity and
permeability in sandstone is fracturing which occurs
during tectonic deformation.
Sandy sediment commonly has very high porosity
upon deposition (30-40% depending on sorting and
packing of the grains). Many ancient sandstones have
porosity reduced to less than 10% by diagenetic
Mineralogival Changes

In ancient mudrocks the clays are dominantly illite

with increasing chlorite after deep burial diagenesis.
Why is this? Illite is produced during the diagenetic
process from smectite (and the smectitic Interlayers). This
reaction occurs as the burial temperature approaches
and passes 60C.
Smectite + K2+
Illite + Si4+ + Na+ + Ca2+ + Fe2+ +
Mg2+ + H2O + organic + many other dissolved
metallic ions

What happens to all of the products of this diagenetic

reaction? Further diagenetic reactions!
The water and many of the soluble cations contribute to
saline basinal brines and the organics to petroleum.
Si4+ is soluble as H4SiO4 (silicic acid) and may be
reprecipitated as in the form of SiO2 (quartz cements &
chert) or as authigenic K-feldspar.
Ca2+ reprecipitated as calcite and dolomite cements.
Mg2+ reprecipitated as dolomite and ankerite cements
or forms massive dolomite as a replacement of preexisting limestone or may contribute to the formation of
Fe2+ contributes to ankerite, ferroan dolomite, and/or
All of the above products may contribute to further
diagenetic alteration of shales or neighboring sedimentary
Concretions and Nodules: Differences; types; how they
Chemical sources:
a) Allogenic: Meteoric and hydrothermal.
b) Authigenic: Connate water and interclastic fossils.



Diagenetic histories (Details in presentation)

1) Conodont alteration color.
2) Vitrinite reflectance.
3) Transformations of clay minerals.
4) Zeolite facies.


Generally, depositional systems are assemblages of
process-related sedimentary facies, which are the
stratigraphic equivalents of geomorphic units. Thus, they
are natural geographic entities in which sediments
accumulate. The concept of depositional architecture is
important because migration pathways for ores and
locations of petroleum reservoirs can be established.
(continental), transitional or marine (Fig. 8.1).

especially in humid climates, and poorly sorted debris

flows particularly in drier climates. Good examples of
ancient alluvial fans can be found in the Permo-Triassic
of Scotland and Spain.
Characteristics of Alluvial Fans
(1) Since they fan and fine outward from the mountain,
alluvial fan deposits develop a coarsening-upward
sequence which may be thousands of feet thick.
(2) Some fining-upward units do occur during the decay
of the fan.
(3) They are composed mainly of gravels, are poorly
sorted and do have occasional cross-bedding or crude
near-horizontal bedding.
(4) The deposits are usually poorly rounded and
compositionally immature.
(5) They normally indicate unidirectional flow by
showing imbrication (Fig. 8.3).
Direction of flow

Figure 8.1. Diagram illustrating the major depositional

environments (from Stanley and Luczaj, 2015).

Figure 8.3. General pattern of imbrication in alluvial fan


(6) They are commonly red as a result of oxidation.

(7) Few, if any, fossils and organic matter are present.

Also called piedmont and pediment, alluvial fans are
deposited at the foot of mountain ranges. They are
therefore a tectonic association, which result from intense
erosion (Fig. 8.2).

8. They are not associated with chemical sediments or

Characteristics of Gravels from Other Environments
Glacial deposits.

Alluvial fan

Playa lake

Figure 8.2. Tectonic association of an alluvial fan.

Alluvial fans are usually small-sized and occur as fanshaped deposits with channels, levees and inter-channel
areas at the upper reaches of fluvial discharge basins or
spread as aqueous fan deltas directly into playa lakes.
They are more common in sub-arid regions, although
extensive deposits also occur in humid climates over fault
slopes; for example, at the foothills of the Himalayas
Mountains. Two main mechanisms of formation have
been deduced: torrential discharges (sheet floods)

Beach gravels.

Submarine fan gravels.


Braided streams are those streams that, under normal
(non-flood) conditions, have a complex pattern of
branching and joining channels across their flood plains
(Fig. 8.4). They are formed as a result of (a) intermittent

streams resulting from occasional or annual floods; (b)
coarse sediment load (sand and gravel), with most mud
bypassing; (c) high gradient which is not as high as
alluvial fan but is higher than meandering streams; (d)
branching may be due to streams choked with sediment
from alluvial fans and glaciers; (e) weak banks.

Clays with roots

Plane bed - sand flat
(if emergent)
Tabular cross beds
Smaller festoon
cross beds

Characteristics of Braided Fluvial Systems

Complex festoon (trough)

cross beds

(1) Splitting channels; may or may not be detected


Erosional base

Figure 8.6. A typical braided stream sequence.


(1) Recent: Most glacially-fed rivers in the Rocky

Mountains, including (a) Saskatchewan, (b) Bow, (c)
Yukon, (d) Platte, (e) Missouri (upper reaches), (f)
Powder, and (g) Arkansas.

Figure 8.4. Anastomosing streams in a braided fluvial system.

(2) Very little or no mud.

(2) Ancient: (a) Triassic Iberian Range, Spain and (b)

Prudhoe Bayfield.


(3) Longitudinal and transverse bars, which

represented by complex festoon-type megaripples
(trough cross-bedding) or sand dunes (Fig. 8.5).


(4) Occasionally when the bars become emergent, plants

grow on them and drape mud. Usually they are nonfossiliferous.

Meandering fluvial systems occur between braided stream

systems and coastal environments. Thus, they occupy the
lower reaches of the fluvial system where gradient is less
steep than the braided system. There are five main
environments within the meandering fluvial system.
Point Bar and Channel Lag

(5) The general sequence always fines upward (Fig. 8.6).

(6) Braided stream deposits commonly yield fairly
consistent paleocurrent directional data.

The point bar sequence represents what is deposited at

the curve of the meandering stream, and it is the most
important depositional setting (Fig. 8.7). Caving controls
most of the load in the stream, and about 80% of sediment
picked up during caving is deposited in the next river
bend downstream, except when in flood.
Point bar

Flood basin



Figure 8.5. Braided stream deposits represented as festoon-type

sand dunes.

The following are good examples of braided stream


site of
Natural levee
Point bar
Figure 8.7. Point bar deposition and the position of the natural
levee and flood basin.

During a big flood stage, all the subenvironments become
flooded, but the main velocity remains in the channel.
This velocity is strong enough to move the coarse lag
deposits within the channel. As the flood subsides there is
gravel lag deposition, followed by the formation of trough
cross-beds, small tabular cross- beds and ripple
laminations. Some tranquillity results in the deposition of
silts and clays. Eventually the water level goes down, and
the process is repeated during the next flood stage.
Deposition is rather variable and occurs in pulses. The
overall depositional style in a meandering fluvial system
forms a classic fining-upward sequence (Fig. 8.8). This
sequence represents a lateral accretion, which is due to
channel avulsion. Mud is deposited during channel

can be

Mud layer
(may have roots)
Small ripple
Climbing ripple
Large scale trough

Channel lag deposit

Figure 8.8. A typical fining-upward point bar sequence.

Natural Levee
A natural levee is the raised bank of a river. During
flooding, water spills out of the channel and goes through
the levee into the flood basin. The water loses its velocity
rapidly during the spillover, depositing coarse material
(usually silt-size) quickly. These deposits form a raised
bank. Modern examples can be found in the Atchafalaya
and Mississippi Rivers in Louisiana. The levee is not
usually preserved, and it is the first area that is eroded by
the channel. Very rarely, it may be preserved in an
abandoned channel.
Flood Basin with Overbank Deposits
The flood basin occupies the topographically lowest
portion of the flood plain. Its characteristics include poor
drainage, slow rates of accumulation, and fine, organic
sediments, such as coal, black shale and dark-gray shales.
Marshes, swamps and lakes typically occupy the flood
Crevasse Splay
This localized sub-environment is formed as a fan delta,
when the river flood breaks through the levee wall into the

flood basin, lagoon or lake on the flood plain. The deposits

are characteristically coarser than those on the natural
levee and are mainly sand-sized. They fine outward,
coarsen-upward and have climbing ripple lamination. The
deposition of a crevasse splay may be a single event
accumulation, but in some cases, it may be reactivated
during multiple flood conditions.
Abandoned Channels
Channel abandonment is accompanied:
Avulsion. This results in the formation of either a totally
new channel or two channels, e.g., Atchafalaya River,
Chute cut-off. Chutes are formed as trough-shaped scour
channels on the upper point bar surface, when streams try
to shorten their courses by straightening the meanders.
Neck cut-off. When a meander loop of a river is cut off, an
ox-bow lake is left behind in the abandoned channel. If
abandonment is slow, the lake will fill up with sand, silt
and clay. During an abrupt abandonment, clays and
organics will predominate. Because abandoned channels
fill up with mud and form clay plugs, they can form both
excellent and devastating permeability barriers.

A lake is a landlocked body of standing, nonmarine water,
which may vary greatly in size, depth and salinity. They
are circular or elongate in plan view and lenticular in
cross section. Size ranges from a few meters to 100,000
square kilometers, and are usually thin (<200 meters). The
study of lake deposits is called limnology. Gilbert (1885)
made the first description of a delta in the Pleistocene
Lake Bonneville, Utah (the remnant of which is the
present Great Salt Lake). This gave rise to the Gilbert
delta, which represents the simplest type of a delta
Depth classification results in two major types of
lakes (Fig. 8.9):
(1) Shallow lakes: These lakes are muddy, and they have
a delta plain and a Gilbert delta on the side. Ox-bow
lakes, sinkholes and tectonic lakes (basin-and-range
grabens) may be classified here.
(2) Deep lakes: These include (a) those that turn over
during spring and fall (associated with varves) and (b)
those that do not turn over.
Generally, the epilimnium is characteristically shallow,
warm, agitated, oxygen-rich, has low pH, and any iron
and organic deposits are oxidized. The hypolimnium is
deep, cold, still, oxygen-poor, dense, has reducing
conditions, and its organics are preserved.
A lake may have periods of turn over before and after
freezing. With a maximum density of water at 4C,
sediments settle out when freezing occurs. The overall net
effect is the formation of laminations called varves. In a
typical lacustrine setting, the sequence coarsens upward.
Where clastic input is limited, chemical sedimentation

predominates, and if there is excessive evaporation (in
arid, shallow lakes), evaporites form. Carbonates are
deposited where there is limited evaporation. Sometimes a
lake may be more saline than seawater (hypersaline).
Lake deposits are important sources of oil shale, uranium
and coal. They may be fossiliferous and the presence of
freshwater fossils is diagnostic. An ancient example is the
Green River Formation in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
Modern examples include the Great Salt Lake, Utah;
Dead, Sea, Israel; and the Great Lakes of North America.

* Sequence

* Sedimentology

* Fossils



Most deserts form in geographic areas of corresponding to

meteorological areas of descending air. The exceptions
are those deserts that form at the lee sides of mountain
ranges. The areas of descending air are found between
latitudes 10 and 30 north and south of the equator (e.g.,
Sahara, western U.S.A. and China, Atacama in Peru,
southern Africa and Australia), and the polar ice caps,
which form the world's largest deserts.
Unlike ascending air, which expand, cools and drops
moisture, descending air is dry, which is why there are
very few plants in the arid desert environment. Therefore,
prevailing winds are capable of transporting sand grains
and concentrating them into well-sorted deposits called
dunes (or loess if silt-size). These are the cross-bedded
sandstones that typify eolian deposition. Their foresets dip
25 to 30. Rare vertebrate footprints, root casts and
burrows are typical of ancient deposits. Intermittent
streams may be present (forming wadis or arroyos), and
evaporite conditions can cause the development of playa
lakes, inland sabkhas and saline lakes. One of the bestknown examples of eolian deposits is the Navajo
Sandstone in Utah and Arizona.
Thick wind deposits are controlled by the velocity of
winds and are not limited by depth, as in water. They are
formed as in Figure 8.10A and preserved as in Figure

Figure 8.9. A, B, Depth classification in a lake; C typical

distribution in a shallow lake.

Summary of Diagnostic Features:

Erosion occurs here

* Setting



* Geometry
Figure 8.10. A, Deposition of dune sands; B, internal
morphology of dune sands.

In order to correctly interpret dune deposits, the top of the
sequence and the wind current direction are important.
Dunes tend to be negatively (coarse) skewed since most
of the fine materials are removed by wind erosion. Where
there is no negative skew, a bimodal distribution in which
faceted boulders and cobbles are overlain by sands and
silts may occur.
Dune Types
The following are the common types of dunes, some of
which are illustrated in Figure 8.11.

Surface structures in dunes:


(1) Barchans: Crescent-shaped dunes, which occur in

areas of starved sand, and on hard surfaces. True barchans
are rare.


(2) Parabolic: U-shaped, lingoid dunes, which are rare.



(3) Transverse dunes: Identical to transverse bars in

braided stream systems.
(4) Longitudinal and seif dunes.
(5) Dome-shaped dunes.
(6) Ergs: Sand seas, i.e. dunes forming waves.
(7) Draas: Oversized dunes.
(8) Rhourds: Star-shaped mountain of sand. which are
larger than draas.

Glaciers presently cover 10% of the earth's surface in
contrast to 30% during the maximum episode of
glaciation in the Pleistocene. Records of at least five
major glacial periods in the geologic past are preserved in
the stratigraphic record:

Glaciations are due to cyclic fluctuations in the quantity

of solar energy received (especially at high latitudes) as a
result of changes in the inclination of the earth's axis.
These are called Milankovitch cycles.
Main Glacial Environments

Figure 8.11. Some common types of dunes.

Large glacial masses form mainly in valleys, at the foot of

mountain ranges, as inland ice and in ice shelves (Fig.
8.12). Therefore, active supply of ice comes mainly from
upland areas, and deposition results from physical
weathering, which produces rock fragments, boulders and
fine dust. The sediments often reflect provenance, and the
constituents are mainly angular, poorly sorted, frequently
striated, grooved and faceted by force of friction. They also
may show imbrication.


Figure 8.12. Main glacial environments (from Allen, 1977).

Modes of Transportation and Deposition (Fig. 8.13)

Figure 8.13. Diagram illustrating various modes of transport of

glacial material and various types of sediment load (from
Collinson and Thompson, 1989).


Moraines or tills (morainite or tillite if ancient) are the

terms used for these processes. They are as follows:

(5) Supraglacial or summit moraines: Result from block

falls on to the top of the ice.

(1) Basal or ground moraines: Layers of variable

thicknesses, which are nonstratified, consist of boulders in
a sedimentary matrix, and show imbriccation.

Ancient glacial sequences typically fine-upward,

beginning with a basal erosional surface. This surface is
overlain by the basal tillite or morainite that is
contemporaneous with the advance of the glacier. It is
successively overlain by a tillite or morainite, which in
turn is overlain by the surface moraine or periglacial
deposits. These uppermost deposits are indicative of ice

(2) Lateral moraines: Developed along the sides of a

(3) Medial moraines: Confluence of individual glaciers.
(4) Terminal moraines: Those that are pushed down in the
flow direction.


A delta is a deposit which is partly subaerial, and is built
by a river into or against a permanent body of water
(Barrel, 1912). The term delta (D) was first used by the
Greek philosopher Herodotus (490 BC) to describe the
sediment at the mouth of the Nile River in Egypt. Deltas
are the most complex of all depositional systems, with
dozens of subenvironments. Ancient systems are of great
economic importance, being the primary sources of
fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas).

(1) Homopycnal flow: Formed where the incoming

water has an equal density with the standing body of
water (Fig. 9.1A). It forms the simplest type of deltas,
called Gilbert delta, with bottomset, foreset and topset
(2) Hyperpycnal flow: Formed where water of greater
density (e.g., turbidity current) enters a less dense
medium (Fig. 9.1B).
(3) Hypopycnal flow: Formed where freshwater flows
into salt water (Fig. 9.1C). It is the most common type of

Distribution of Deltas
Deltas will form when more sediment is supplied at
the river mouth than can be removed by tides, waves and
longshore currents. Their distribution worldwide is
affected mainly by tectonics, and less so by climate and
geomorphic constraints. Landmasses that are covered by
ice sheets lack major deltas, while many deltas form in
coastal plains of passive margins (e.g., Niger), or in
broadly downwarping cratonic basins (e.g., GangesBrahmaputra). Collision coasts lack wide, shallow
shelves and have very few significant deltas (e.g., Ebro,
Po in Italy, Colorado).
Various processes control delta development and
maintenance. These processes may operate in the delta,
adjacent to the delta, or may be geographically remote
from the delta. They include:

Waves and tides are important in classifying deltas (see

below). Waves are caused by wind and residual swell
which lead to simple oscillating currents in the open sea,
without defined transport direction of water particles. On
the other hand, tides are deformation of water masses
under the influence of gravitational pull exerted by (a)
the moon on its course around the earth, and (b) the sun
on the moon and earth on their joint passage around the
center of the planetary system.
Three types of deltaic accumulations often result:

Figure 9.1. Types of flows at the mouth of a river, A,

Homopycnal. B, Hyperpycnal. C, Hypopycnal (from Bates in
Galloway and Hobday, 1983).

Classification of Deltas
Classification is based on the interrelationship
betweensediment supply and the major processes
operating in the dynamic environment. The primary
effects that are normally considered are riverine
processes and their sediment load, wave energy and
tidal energy influx. Four basic delta morphologies
occur (Fig. 9.2). Elongate deltas are river-dominated
and constructive with large volumes of sediment, as in
the Mississippi Delta. Lobate deltas are intermediate
to fluvially dominated. They have smooth outlines and
a well-developed network of distributaries (e.g., Ebro)

Cuspate or arcuate deltas are dominated by waves

and longshore currents, and are also destructive in
nature. They have well-developed sand beaches, which
are parallel to the delta outline (e.g., Sao Francisco in
Brazil). Irregular deltas are tide-dominated,
destructive, and contain linear sand bodies, which are
parallel to tidal flow but perpendicular to the coastline
(e.g., Ganges-Brahmaputra). Using riverine processes,
wave energy and tidal energy as end members of a
ternary diagram, the world's major deltas have been
classified according to their shapes (Fig. 9.3). Table9.1
summarized the characteristics of deltaic depositional

Figure 9.2. Various delta types. A Lobate (intermediate to fluvial-dominated); B, elongate (fluvial-dominated); C,
irregular (tide-dominated); D, arcuate or cuspate (wave-dominated) (from Reading, 1986).


Figure 9.3. Classification of deltas based on processes and morphologic response (from Galloway, 1975).





Elongate to lobate


Estuarine to irregular

Channel type

Straight to sinuous


Flaring straight to
sinouous distributaries

Bulk composition

Muddy to mixed



Framework facies

Distributary mouth bar

and channel fill sands,
delta margin sand sheet

Coastal barrier and

beach ridge sands

Estuary fill and tidal

sand ridges

Framework orientation

Parallels depositional

Parallels depositional

Parallels depositional

Table 9.1. Characteristics of deltaic depositional systems (from Galloway, 1975).

Depositional Sub-environments
Deltaic sub-environments range from the fluvial delta
plain to the marine prodelta (Fig. 9.4). The overall
sequence usually coarsens upward.
Delta Plain. This consists of subaerial and subaqueous subenvironments, some of which are
intertidal. These can further be subdivided into:
(1) Distributary channels and associated point bars
characteristically fining-upward sequences, with
cross-bedded sands oriented downstream and herringbone bedding in tide-dominated situations. Channel
abandonment causes in-filling of channels with silts,
clays and organics.
(2) Interdistributary bays and marshes: These
correspond to the lowest velocity subenvironments in
the flood basin. They are usually filled with water
and experience deposition of silts, clays, plant debris
and shell debris. Where small tidal ranges occur,

large open bays with marshes at their margins

develop. If high tidal ranges persist, broad, unvegetated tidal flats are well developed. Lagoons are
often associated with this system. Sand can be
deposited as crevasse splays or lagoonal deltas, and
flood-tidal deltas. Peat and coal can form in the delta
Delta Front. The delta front is <10 meters deep with
high wave energy, longshore current and tidal
influence, and sand deposition. The subenvironments
include the beach-barrier island complex and the
distributary mouth bar. The sediments are mainly
cross-bedded and often well sorted with grain size
decreasing seaward.
Prodelta. This is the most homogeneous of all the
Sub-environments in the delta system. It is dominated
by silts and clays. Marine shells may be present and
the muds may be bioturbated.

Figure 9.4. Typical cross section across the Niger Delta and adjacent marine shelf, showing sediment types,
morphology, and distribution (from Allen, 1970).


VIDEO on the Mississippi Delta

(32 minutes long)
Emphasis on the following:
(1) Shapes of three the common types of deltas.

coasts. Barriers develop as elongate sandy islands or

peninsulas along microtidal coasts. They are less elongate
and frequently breached by tidal channels along mesotidal
coasts. Macrotidal coasts have few or no barriers. Barrier
complexes develop along passive tectonic margins or in
broad cratonic seaways (i.e., stable coastal plains). The
profile of three of the four main sub-environments is
shown in Figure 9.6.

(2) Formation of lobes in the delta.

(3) Characteristics of depocenters (alluvial plain,
distributary mouth bar, prodelta).
(4) Sedimentation in the interdistributary bay
(distributary mouth bar, delta front, prodelta).
(5) Effluent plume in the subaqueous delta environment
(distributary mouth bar, delta front, prodelta).

Littoral environments extend from coastal plains as
dunes and cliffs to the sea at a depth of several tens of
meters. Deposition is controlled by the actions of waves
and tides (Fig. 9.5).

Figure 9.6 Typical morphological units in section of a sandy

beach (after Walker, 1984).

Back Barrier. This is the vast area that is subjected

predominantly to tidal action behind barriers, and along
meso- and macrotidal coastlines. It is represented by
lagoons and tidal flats, which contain mudstones and
fine-grained sands. The lagoons are stagnant, organicrich, occasionally forming coal and peat swamps, and
their deposits are often indistinguishable from those of
tidal flats. When conditions are hypersaline, as in arid
climates, evaporites do form in the back barrier.

Beach-Barrier Complex

The main difference between back barrier lagoons and

tidal flats and those in the peritidal environment is that
they contain beds of fine-grained sands. These sands
sometimes show effects of nearby beaches, in which case
they are considered washover deposits, or effects of
distributary channels. Flood-tidal deltas and lagoonal
deltas may develop as a result of flooding from tidal
inlets and distributary channels respectively (see Fig. 9.5).

Beaches represent littoral zones that are exposed directly

to dominant actions of waves, accompanied by tides of
different amplitudes. They occur as dune sands in the
terrestrial zone where there is regular accumulation of
sands without much tidal influence, i.e., along microtidal

Backshore. This supratidal region with its dunes is

usually inundated by storms and exceptionally high
tides. It has a sandy terrace called the berm, whose
crest is just above the water level. In this subenvironment, wind action is more important than wave

Figure 9.5. Diagram showing the various subenvironments in a

barrier-island system (from Walker, 1984).

action. Washover deposits may occur when the dunes
themselves experience excessive storm action, and the
beach sands are eroded into the back barrier lagoons.
Characteristics of beach sands:

less sandy and may be interbedded with mud. The sands

have hummocky cross-stratification, a lot of burrows
and are bioturbated. They also have diverse and
abundant shelly invertebrate faunas.

Foreshore. The foreshore is intertidal (see Fig. 9.6), and

its sand deposits are coarser than offshore sands. They
commonly have planar cross-bedding (dips of 2 to
10), some trough cross-bedding and sub-parallel
bedding. Ebb-tidal deltas occur in the foreshore. Gray
coloration in some foreshore sediments is due to the
presence of organic matter.
Shoreface. This is the region at the lower reaches of
wave action, where tide levels also vary. The upper
shoreface marks the wave base (10 to 20 m), is mainly
sandy with trough and planar cross-bedding, some
swaley cross-stratification and hummocky crossstratification. They are occasionally bioturbated. The
lower shoreface is also affected by offshore currents, is

Example of an ancient littoral setting: Ordovician

shoreline sequences of South Africa; p. 187-191 in the
*Tectonic setting:

*Lithofacies: List the four formations (in sequential

order from oldest to youngest), their facies, thicknesses,
sedimentary structures, and age (of the two formations
discussed in detail).


The continental shelf is that marine region that is <200
meters deep (Fig. 10.1). Clastic sedimentation occurs
Seventy percent of continental shelves today are covered
with relict sediments called palimpsest sediments. What
are these sediments?
Figure 10.2. Idealized distribution of various classes of sediment
on continental shelves, where sediments are in equilibrium with
their environment. White arrows-warm water; dotted arrowsupwelling water; black arrow-cold water (from Reineck, 1968).

may also develop on sandy bottoms with strong tidal

currents. They run parallel to the direction of tidal flow.
Sand ribbons are only of several decimeters thickness,
which locally extend to 20 km in length and 0.2 km width.
They develop well in the eastern section of the English

Figure 10.1. Zonation of continental shelf and dominant

hydrodynamic processes (from Galloway and Hobday, 1983).

However, the effects of currents affect the type of

sediment deposited: it is commonly muddy on shelves and
there are storm-induced sand layers nearshore.
Furthermore, the sediments show a definite relationship to
climate and current systems (Fig. 14.2). Detrital
sediments are laid down by water, wind and ice in polar
regions, whereas biogenic sediments (with carbonate
shells and tests) occur mainly around the warm equator.
Authigenic sediments commonly contain phosphorite and
Sand deposition
Sand Ribbons. Sand ribbons are linear bedforms that form
on sandy and gravely shelf bottoms, and they

Tidal Sand Ridges. These are elongate bars or banks that

are parallel to the direction of tidal current (Fig. 14.3, next
page). They occur in groups up to 40 m high, 2 km wide
and 60 km long, and are spaced at intervals of 5 km to 12
km. Tidal sand ridges are very common in the North Sea
and English Channel where they consist of mediumgrained, well sorted sands. Sand ribbons are smaller
versions of tidal sand ridges because both are asymmetrical
in transverse profile and show cross-stratification.
Tidal Sand Waves. Tidal sand waves are dune-shaped
bedforms that are 3 m to 15 m high and mainly
perpendicular to tidal flow (Fig. 10.3). They have
wavelengths up to 500 m over sandy outer shelves with
strong tidal currents. Their shapes could be symmetrical or
asymmetrical. The internal structures are dominated by
large scale cross-beds, but the sands sometimes have a
smaller stratification oriented in the opposite direction that
is superimposed on the upstream flank. Hummocky crossstratification may be associated with the sands, while
lenticular bedding, flaser bedding and wave ripples can
also form. The Cretaceous Green (glauconitic) Sands in
England are good examples of tidal sand waves.

Differences Between Marine and Eolian Sand Waves.

Mud Deposition
Mud deposition occurs off coasts with weak tidal and
wave processes, and is common on the outer shelf; e.g.,
SW Gulf of Mexico, Bering Sea and Bay of Biscaye. The
deposits include heavily bioturbated terrigenous coastal
mud to open marine hemipelagic deposits. Differential
settling of clays occurs, with calm conditions favoring
smectite deposition as opposed to illite and kaolinite.

Figure 10.4. Four characteristic stratigraphic profiles of marine

shelf sequences due to variations in relative sea level change,
and storm or tide activity. A, Prograding (regressive) stormdominated shelf; B, transgressive storm-dominated shelf; C,
transgressive tide-dominated shelf; D, balanced accumulation,
storm- and tide-dominated (from Galloway and Hobday, 1983).

Figure 14.3. Main tidal sand ridges and sand waves in the
southern North Sea (from Galloway and Hobday, 1983).

Sedimentary Sequences
The types of sedimentary sequences formed depend on
the changes in relative sea level and hydrodynamic
processes on the shelf, i.e., storm and tidal processes (Fig.
10.4). Transgressive sequences show an upward decrease
in grain size, which is due to onlap. Regressive sequences
increase in grain size as a result of offlap. A variable
profile results from aggradation or balanced
accumulation. Shelf deposits are of economic importance
because (a) stratigraphic traps of hydrocarbons are formed
by sands within impermeable shales; and (b) the shales
are source rocks for hydrocarbons.


The continental slope and rise environments extend from
the outer edge of the shelf (with abrupt boundary) to the
deep sea. Sedimentation is controlled by submarine relief,
movement of water masses, climate, biologic
productivity, sources of sediments, etc.
Continental Slope
This environment is narrow and extends from between
150-200 m to 1,500-2,000 m, sloping at 4 to 6. It is
frequently dissected by submarine canyons which were
formed as a result of subaerial erosion by rivers during the
Plio-Pleistocene regressions; e.g., off the Rhne,
Mississippi and Niger Deltas.
The sediments are usually under gravitational
influence and do not remain on the slope. The
characteristic features are gravity-transported (Fig. 10.5):
(a) Olistoliths, which are large, exotic slide blocks), (b)

slumped and deformed shales; (c) olistostromes, which
constitute a chaotic assemblage of exotic brecciated
blocks, and (d) turbidites.

classic Bouma sequence (Fig. 15.2), which has five

distinctive units (A-E). These units are distinguished from
one another by their grain sizes and sedimentary structure,
with graded bedding at the lowermost unit. A complete
Bouma sequence is not always present.

Figure 10.6. The classic Bouma turbidite sequence, showing

trends of sedimentary structures, grain sizes, and depositional
conditions (from Bouma, 1962).

Figure 10.5. Processes of mass-gravity transport and their

deposits (from Reading, 1986).

Continental Rise
The continental rise occurs on passive margins, and is
1,500 m to 4,000 m deep and 300 km to 400 km wide.
Accumulations of sediments as cones or lobes are due to
either (a) deposition by gravity current transportation at
right angle to the coast, or (b) deposition by contour
current transportation parallel to the coast. Contour
currents are products of normal oceanic circulation, as
water masses of different densities move relative to one
another. Continental rise sequences contain sediments
brought in by sliding and hemipelagic shale.
Turbidites. These sediments are produced by turbidity
currents, the most important transport process in the
environment. A complete turbidite form is referred to as a

Submarine Fans. Submarine fans are built by spreading

sheets and lobes of turbidite sequences. They are similar
in some aspects to subaerial fans, such as crevasse splays
and overbank deposits. The main difference between them
and the other fan deposits is that they are well bedded and
interbedded with marine sediments. They are divided into
three portions: inner, middle and outer fan (Fig. 10.6 on
the next page). The coarsest materials occur in the inner
fan, which is near the top of the continental rise and
submarine canyons. The middle part of the fan contains
the classic turbidites, and is characterized by sedimentary
lobes. Thin-bedded turbidites that are dominated by sand,
silt and clay occur on the outer or distal fan.
Consequently, the overall fan sequence coarsens upward.
Submarine fan sequences can be very thick in deep
water tectonic basins. Episodes of fan deposition can now
be correlated with low sea level stands in some areas
(Mutti, 1985). Sedimentary structures include sole marks
(flute and groove casts), load casts and trace fossils.
Pelagic organisms such as foraminifera are the most
diagnostic fossils in the sediments. Because turbidite
sands are fairly coarse and interbedded with shales, they
can be important hydrocarbon reservoir rocks, as in the
offshore section of the Niger Delta. The Late Cretaceous
Book Cliffs, Utah also have well-exposed outcrops of

Example: Tertiary turbitides of the Northern Apennines..
(Reading Assignment); p. 206-208 in the textbook.

*Tectonic Setting

Figure 10.6. Geometry of submarine fans and the associations of facies, according to Mutti and Ricci Lucchi
(1972) (from Lewis, 1984)

The study of pelagic sediments was pioneered by
the voyages of the British ship HMS Challenger,
from 1872 to 1876. In recent years, the deep sea
drilling project (DSDP) and ocean drilling program
(ODP) have focused solely on abyssal and hadal
environments) where pelagic sedimentation takes
place (i.e. sediments settling out of the overlying
water column). Such sediments are composed
mainly of terrigenous clays, skeletal materials and
minor amounts of authigenic components. They

may also contain volcanic ash layers, eolian dusts

or tektites. Deep-sea deposits can be exposed in
subduction zones, and the associated igneous and
metamorphic deep-sea rocks are called flysch
The pattern of sedimentation is as follows (Fig. 10.7):
(1) Siliceous oozes:


(2) Calcareous oozes:

(3) Terrigenous clays:

(4) Glacial deposits:

Deep Sea Clays. Figure 10.8 (on the next page)

illustrates the general distribution of terrigenous
clays in the deep sea. Kaolinite can be found in
abundance at low latitudes where they are deposited
at the mouths of tropical rivers. Illite is abundant in
the midlatitudes, whereas chlorite occurs mainly at
high latitudes. Montmorrilonite (or smectite) is
deposited around midoceanic ridges and near island
arcs, and is derived from the weathering of these
submarine volcanic features.
Authigenic Materials. The authigenic components in
the deep sea include zeolites, manganese oxides and
Example: Western Interior of North America

(5) Authigenic components.

* Setting:
Carbonate Oozes. The CCD is very important for the
accummulation of carbonate oozes because it is the
critical level at which the rate of calcite supply is
balanced by the rate of dissolution. Therefore, it
represents the depth below which all calcium
carbonate will dissolve, and is commonly between 4
km and 5 km in depth. Carbonate oozes are formed
mainly by foraminifera and coccolithophores where
their accumulation is not overwhelmed by
terrigenous material. These oozes form chalk and
limestones when they become very coherent.
Siliceous Oozes. These are formed by radiolarians,
silicoflagellates, diatoms and possibly sponge
spicules. All these organisms release opalline silica
for chert formation. Unlike carbonaceous oozes, they
are formed only where oceanic upwelling recycles
silica from the ocean bottom since seawater is
undersaturated with respect to silica. They form
diatomites and radiolarites.

* Sequence:

* Sedimentology and facies:



Figure 10.7. The global pattern of deep-sea sediments. Calcareous oozes are restricted to low latitudes. Most
siliceous oozes lie close to the poles, although some occur in the equatorial Pacific and Indian Oceans. The areas
of low productivity in the center of oceanic gyres have mostly pelagic clays (from Riley and Chester, 1976).

Figure 10.8. Dominant clay minerals on the ocean floor (modified from Berger, 1974).


Carbonates are mostly autotochnous sediments (mostly
intrabasinal) resulting from biological and biochemical
processes within the basin of deposition. Their
deposition is controlled by several factors, including:

calcite common in marine sediments and Cenozoic

sedimentary rocks is high magnesium calcite
(HMC) which contains anywhere between 5 and
30% Mg2+ substituted for Ca2+ in the calcite crystal
lattice. Ancient (pre-Cenozoic limestones contain
very little HMC because magnesium is lost during
diagenesis. Calcite containing <4% is commonly
referred to as low magnesium calcite (LMC).
Aragonite a CaCO3 polymorph with orthorhombic
structure. Common in modern marine sediments and
Cenozoic carbonates it becomes increasingly rare in older
sediments, just as HMC. Both Aragonite and HMC are
unstable and are replaced by LMC or dolomite during
Dolomite is the name used for both the mineral
CaMg(CO3)2 and the rock that is composed largely of the
mineral dolomite. The term dolostone occasionally is
incorrectly applied to the rock dolomite




The constituent parts of a limestone can be divided into:

grains (allochems), mud (micrite), and cement (spar).

These factors are met on shallow shelves between 0 and

30 north and south of the equator, where it is warm with
normal salinity, no large influx of clastics to choke
carbonate-secreting organisms. Normally, CO balance
exists in three states, which are represented in Figure 11.

Grains or allochems include skeletal fragments (or

fossils), chemically and biologically precipitated
carbonate grains such as pellets and ooids, and broken
pieces of previously existing limestone (intraclasts).

(1) CO2+H2O H2CO3 H++ HCO3- 2H++CO32-

Skeletal fragments of fossils include

invertebrates and microfossils (see handout).

(2) Ca2++2HCO3-CaCO3+H2O+CO2(seawater pH)

Coated Grains

(3) Ca2++CO32- CaCO3



Figure 11.1. Stability states of carbonate ions.

Carbonate rocks make up 15-20% of the total volume

of sedimentary rocks. Other authors put this figure
lower. This probably is because many geologists
classify marls as mudrocks. Marls are more correctly
described as argillaceous (clay rich) limestones
and/or dolomites and thus are carbonate rocks. They
are primarily made up of 3 minerals:
Calcite a CaCO3 polymorph with hexagonal
(rhombohedral) structure. A major variation of

Ooids (ooliths) are spherical structures ranging in size

up to 2 mm are made up of concentric laminations or
coats of aragonite and/or HMC. Ooids generally are
produced in water with some wave or current action.
Carbonate material are added during the rolling action
in the current much as laminations of ice are added to a
hale stone. Pisolites are similar in structure and origin
to ooids but larger than 2 mm. Oncolites are
subspherical structures made up of nonconcentric,
overlapping layers of carbonate material.
commonly are larger than pisolites, up to several cm,
and are formed in intertidal or caliche environments.
Pellets are carbonate fecal material produced by
burrowing organisms. Peloids are pellet-like allochems,
which may be either a true pellet or a skeletal fragment
or other allochem that has undergone mechanical or
biological degradation to the point that it looks like a
pellet. (Consider the degradation that you go through
during some heavy partying; the next morning you look
and feel like a pellet only you use another word for it!)
Lime Mud (micrite) is microcrystalline (clay size
particles) calcite or aragonite. This includes micron size

crystals (generally <4m) of aragonite and or HMC
produced by the breakdown of larger allochems (grains)
by mechanical and especially bacterial action. In some
cases clay size crystals of calcite and aragonite may be
directly precipitated by seawater.
Cement (spar)
Cement is carbonate mineral precipitated in the pore
spaces of carbonate sediments and sedimentary
rocks. In other words cement is deposited during
the diagenetic process just as it is in clastic rocks.
In the case of carbonate rocks cementation can
begin very early; almost immediately upon
In the marine environment cement is either
aragonite or HMC.
In the freshwater aquifers cement is usually LMC.
Dolomite cements commonly precipitate in the
deep burial environment, in aquifers saturated with
evaporated seawater shallow environments, or in
other specialized diagenetic environments.
Some classification systems categorize all of the
carbonate components (grains, mud, and cement) as
orthochemical. This is not a good term because it
implies that the carbonate sediment formed "in
place" which is not always true. Carbonate grains
and mud can be transported some distance from the
place where it is formed to where it is finally
deposited. The only one of the above components
that is truly orthochemical is cement, which is
formed in place. This is true, of course, of cements
in clastic sedimentary rocks as well.
Limestones: There are two classification systems in
common use for limestones, Folk (1959, modified in
1962) and Dunham (1962) (Fig. 11.2). Both of the
classification systems are based on texture
(fundamental properties of grain size, shape,
orientation and packing) and enable the geologist to
make inferences on the origin of the limestone.
Folk's classification system is primarily used for
thin section petrography and is rather difficult (but
not impossible) to use in hand specimen or on
outcrop. Dunham's classification is more easily
applied to hand specimen or fieldwork (Fig. 11.3).
The primary usefulness of both Folk's and
Dunham's classifications is that an estimate can be
made as to relative energy of the depositional

environment which created the limestone.

general, the more lime mud that the limestone
contains the quieter the water in which it was
Use Dunham's classification system in lab to categorize
the specimens but also try to pigeonhole them into Folk's
classification system. Try to make an estimate of the
depositional energy (high, medium, low) in which the
limestone was deposited based on the mud (micrite)
component of the rock.
Dolomite: Folk classified dolomite as dolosparite and
Dunham as crystalline carbonate, which is not very
useful if you want to learn anything about the rock. It
is useful for categorizing the original limestone
lithology of the rock prior to dolomitization. The
method tells you nothing about the dolomitization
process. Very commonly the original limestone texture
has been obliterated by dolomitization and all of the
above classification methods are pretty much useless.
Two dolomite classification systems are now in
common use based on the fundamental properties of
crystal shape and size. These classification systems are
Friedman (1965), which does not carry much genetic
information and Sibley and Gregg (1987; based on
earlier work of Gregg and Sibley, 1984), which carries
considerable information as to the origin of the
dolomite. (It should be pointed out that Sibley and
Gregg used Friedman's original work as a starting
Both of the above classification systems require
thin section microscopy for application. About the best
that can be done in hand specimen is to categorize
dolomite on the basis of crystal size:
Coarse crystalline
Medium crystalline
Fine crystalline

>0.5 mm
0.25 0.5 mm
0.125 0.25 mm

Coarse crystalline dolomite is rare in Cenozoic

dolomite rocks and suggests dolomitization or
recrystallization of previously existing dolomite after
burial. The observation of "saddle dolomite" or curved
dolomite crystals as open space filling cement is
generally thought to indicate dolomitization by warm
(>60C) fluids in the burial environment.
Porosity in carbonate rocks is classified using a system
proposed by Choquette and Pray (1970). Since porosity
is a very complex and important characteristic of
limestone it should always be examined and described
in detail. Choquette's and Pray's classification is very
easy to apply in hand specimen.


Figure 11.2. Top, Folks classification of limestones. Bottom, Textural maturity classification proposed by Folk.


Figure 11.3. Classification of limestones proposed by Dunham (1962). A, Dunhams original scheme. B, Modification
of Dunhams classification by Embry and Klovan (1972).
Carbonate Diagenesis
Carbonate sediments begin to undergo lithification
almost instantly upon sedimentation. In contrast to
sandstones the character of carbonate rocks can
change radically during diagenesis.
Cementation and porosity reduction Holocene
and Pleistocene carbonates average about 40%
porosity. Even after burial and compaction such
limestones average 20 to 30% porosity. Ancient
carbonates usually have <10% porosity, most are
<5% porosity. What happens to all of the porosity?
It is filled by cement.
Environments of carbonate cementation (Fig. 11.4)
Vadose is the zone of aeration, above the water table.
Water is moving downward or is held by surface
tension in pore throats and between grains.


fresh vadose
Water Table

Sea Level

fresh phreatic


Figure 11.4.




marine phreatic



Phreatic is the zone of saturation below the water table.


Most carbonate rocks eventually are exposed to

fresh water diagenetic environments.
aragonite and HMC are unstable in fresh water (they
form in and are metastable in sea water due to
kinetic reasons) they undergo neomorphic
recrystallization to LMC or in some cases aragonite
grains simply dissolve and leave a hole (mold) that
later may be filled by LMC cement. Such porosity
is common in geologically young carbonate rocks
and is classified by Choquette and Pray as moldic
Pressure solution or dissolution
Initial compaction mostly affects lime mud rich
sediment as water is squeezed out of the sediment.
Pressure solution occurs in carbonate rocks just as it
does in sandstones although it may be more
extensive and may begin very soon after deposition
at relatively shallow depths. The results of pressure
solution in carbonate rocks are solution seams and
stylolites (Fig. 11.5).
Solution seams occur along horizontal
boundaries that may correspond to diastems or short
periods of non-deposition. Such boundaries may
contain an abundance of clay minerals, which may
catalyze carbonate dissolution. As the carbonate
minerals dissolve insoluble minerals such as organic
residue, clay and sulfide minerals, silt and some
sand sized siliciclastic grains, and authigenic
chalcedony and chert accumulate along the solution
seam, commonly forming subhorizontal laminations
of insoluble material up to several mm thick.
Stylolites are large amplitude solution seams
that possibly develop along boundaries where
relative solubility along the length of the boundary
differ slightly from one side to the other.
An estimate can be made as to how much
carbonate has been removed by dissolution by
taking the ration between the amount of insoluble
material in the carbonate rock as a whole and the
amount found in the seam. Another way to make an
estimate is to measure the maximum amplitude of
the stylolites. This amplitude will be equivalent to
the minimum amount of rock dissolved to form the
stylolite. As much as 40% of the original rock
has been found removed by pressure solution in
many ancient carbonate sections. Much of this
likely was reprecipitated as cement, thus reducing



partially disolved
skeletal grain


partially disolved


Marine aragonite and HMC.
Fresh LMC (aragonite speleothems in karsted
Deep burial phreatic (saline formation waters
and basinal fluids) LMC, dolomite, &
ankerite cements.

Solution Seam

Figure 11.5. Features formed by pressure solution in

carbonate rocks.
Dolomite is not believed to be the result of primary
precipitation except in rare instances in some playa lake
settings. Almost all dolomite forms as a result of
diagenetic dolomitization of limestone involving
magnesium rich groundwater. Questions of the exact
make-up of this groundwater and the timing of
dolomitization has plagued sedimentary petrologists for
years because of a lack of understanding of the kinetics
of the chemical reaction. Dolomite is in thermodynamic
equilibrium with seawater as well as many other natural
waters. Dolomite should precipitate directly from
seawater, but it does not. In fact no one has been
successful in synthesizing dolomite in the laboratory
using fluids of seawater composition at near surface
temperatures (60C).
The dolomitization reaction is as follows:
2CaCO3 + Mg2+
CaMg(CO3)2 + Ca2+
The reaction is shown as reversible because calcite can
replace dolomite if chemical conditions change
(dedolomitization). The major requirements for
dolomite formation is a source of magnesium and a
hydrogeologic system to bring Mg2+ to the site of
dolomitization and carry excess Ca2+ away. The
dolomitization reaction as shown above results in a
12% volume decrease.
Why would a 12% volume decrease during dolomitization
be of interest for petroleum exploration?

Dolomitization Models (Fig. 11.6)

Reflux refers to groundwater returning to the sea.
Themodel is also called evaporitic reflux, seepage
reflux or evaporitic pumping in the literature. The
model requires rather special conditions, such as brine
precipitation, because dolomitized limestones usually
occur immediately below evaporites. This happens
underneath supratidal and intertidal regions).
Seasonality between arid and humid conditions, and
tectonic stability are very important factors.

Seawater is a good source of Mg2+ {seawater
model). Seawater, of normal salinity, circulating
through the marine phreatic zone may dolomitize
CaCO3 sediments, especially at depth where pressure
is increased by the hydrostatic head (thus increasing
the solubility of HMC and Aragonite). Seawater has
been suggested as the dolomitizing agent for
subsurface sediments at Enewetak Atoll and on
peritidal flats on the coast of Belize.
Evaporated seawater may be a good dolomitizing
fluid because evaporation tends to concentrate Mg2+.
If the seawater is evaporated to the point of gypsum
(CaSO42H2O) precipitation the ratio of Mg to Ca is
increased, further favoring the formation of dolomite.
Dolomite is commonly associated with depositional
environments where evaporation of seawater may
have occurred and evaporites have formed. Dolomite
has been observed in modern carbonate sediments,
associated with evaporation and evaporite minerals,
in places such as the Persian Gulf and the Coorong
Lagoon of Australia.
Mixed fresh and seawater (mixed water or
DORAG model) may also facilitate the
dolomitization reaction. In the phreatic mixing zone
water composition will commonly be undersaturated
with respect to calcite and aragonite but
supersaturated with respect to dolomite. Dolomite
should theoretically replace limestone under such
thermodynamic conditions. This mechanism was

advocated for some ancient dolomite formations as

well as dolomite thought to be forming in Cenozoic
age limestones in the Yucatan region of Mexico. A
major problem with this model is that dolomite has
not been observed unequivocally forming in modern
mixing zone environments. This model has pretty
much been abandoned in favor of dolomitization by
Basinal brines have been suggested as fluids
capable of dolomitizing limestones after burial.
Advantages of this model are: higher temperatures
in the burial environment are kinetically favorable
to dolomitization; and limestones are exposed to
basinal fluids for long geological times which would
dolomitization. Indeed, it would appear that the
older the carbonate rock formation is, the more
likely it is a dolomite! Problems include a good
source of Mg2+ which is commonly lacking in the
deep diagenetic environment. Never-the-less
evidence is very strong that at least some dolomite
is formed in the burial environment.
The fact that approximately 25% of the
worlds petroleum reserves are found in dolomite
means that scientists will continue to be interested
in the origin of this rock. That considerable
disagreement and debate continue, with regard to
the origin of dolomite, is a sign of the robust nature
and health of the geological sciences. Why would
understanding the origin of dolomite be important
for successful petroleum exploration?

Figure 11.6. Schematic representation of various dolomite models (from Boggs, 2012).
Karst is created by the dissolution of carbonate rock
(limestone and dolomite) by ground water. This
most commonly occurs involving fresh water
charged with atmospheric CO2 in the following

H2O + CO2
rain water atmospheric
carbon dioxide

+ HCO3

carbonic acid

Acidic water dissolves carbonate rock, especially along

fractures and other previously existing porosity where
the flux of ground water is greatest. This increased flow

of ground water further increases porosity in these areas
until, in some cases, cavern sized open spaces form.
Any region underlain by carbonate rocks of any age is
subject to karst development. This is especially true of
Missouri where nearly the whole state is underlain, at
some depth, by carbonate rocks. The karst features of
Missouri have played a colorful role in our state's
history (e.g., Jesse James cavernous hide-out near
Sullivan, MO) and literature (e.g., in Mark Twain's The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer).
Karst terrain presents a large variety of problems to
engineering and environmental geologists:
(1) Water moves very rapidly in a karst ground water
system. Unlike a "classic" porous medium, such as
sandstone, where porosity is measured in millidarcies,
water in a cars system can flow as underwater rivers.
Pollution entering at one point, such as a
sinkhole, can affect a large region very rapidly.
In many cases it is difficult to predict the
pathways of contaminants in such systems.
Human and animal waste products may
contaminate water supplies distant from the

source off pollution because rapid flow does not

allow for natural biological "purification" to take
(2) Karst systems present problems for building
foundations and in other construction projects. A
primary example of this is the list that everyone living
in TJ Hall must put up with because that structure was
built over a sinkhole. Dr. Gerald Rupert, emeritus
professor of geophysics at Missouri S&T has been
involved with subsurface mapping of dissolution
features under the Arch in St. Louis using groundpenetrating radar. A large amount of money is being
spent reinforcing the foundation of the Arch, money
that would have been saved if proper site investigations
had been made during the planning stages of
Because of the likelihood of karst development in
areas underlain by carbonate rocks it is important to
understand the origin and nature of porosity systems
of those rocks. In most karst regions this can only be
done using careful observation and mapping of the
underlying rocks.


The most basic requirements for carbonate
production and deposition (summary of factors in
Section 11) are as follow:
(1) Lack of or low amount of clastic input, e.g., the
only siliciclastic material in the Bahamas is wind
blown silt and clay particles from North Africa.
Clastic material is usually detrimental to the
organisms that produce carbonates.
(2)Warm tropical or subtropical conditions.
Temperature affects carbonate solubility. CaCO3
and MgCO3 are less soluble in warm water than in
cold because of a) the high hydrating energy of
Ca2+ and Mg2+ and b) CO2 is less soluble in warm
water than cold, therefore there is less H2CO3
(carbonic acid) in warm water the water is therefore
less acid and can hold less carbonate. Note that
warm oceans do not necessarily have more life than
cold oceans, which are very biologically productive.
The reason for carbonate productivity in warm
oceans has to do with carbonate chemistry as
discussed here.

(3) Light. Carbonate productivity is virtually 100%

within the photic zone, and almost all of this within
the top 40m of the ocean. (In fact most marine life
exits in the photic zone or the depth to which light
can penetrate). Carbonate organisms require
photosynthesis or require for food photosynthetic
Scleractinian corals (modern reef
building corals) contain single cell photosynthetic
organisms as symbionts within their tissue that are
called zooxanthellae. Without these symbionts the
corals will die.



Shelf margin platform (on the edge of a continent),

modern examples:
Florida Keys
Yucatan (Belize & Mexico)
Eastern Australia (the Great Barrier Reef)
Uplifted oceanic block, modern example: Bahamas
Shallow inland sea, modern example: Persian Gulf
The carbonate depositional model has well defined
facies belts (Fig. 12.1). A facies is a distinct lithology
that is deposited under specific depositional
conditions. Therefore a particular limestone may be
made up of several distinct depositional facies that
were deposited under different conditions.




supratidal, intertidal beach
algal mats & stromatolites
evaporites & eolianites


reef flat

lime muds, oolitic &

skeletal grainstones, patch reefs

The Carbonate Factory


sea level


Ta R
llu ee
s f

Deep Basin
turbidites, shale
& pelagic ooze

Figure 12.1. Lateral representation of carbonate depositional environments.

The energy of the depositional environment is a major
control on the limestone lithology or facies that is
undergoing deposition. For instance in the lagoon
lime muds are deposited in areas of quiet water and
patch reefs, oolitic and skeletal grainstones are
deposited in areas of moderate to strong currents or
wave energy. The basic carbonate model is useful in
understanding and predicting the distribution of
distinct carbonate lithologies. It should be understood,
however, that all of components of the model will not
always be present or in the cross sectional package as

shown in Figure 12.1. The model can be observed

throughout the geological record even though the
organisms involved continue to evolve. Today the
wave resistant barrier reef framework is primarily
Scleractinian coral, which did not evolve until the
early Mesozoic. Figure 12.2 shows the vertical
representation of the depositional model. The
characteristics of the subdivisions, which produce a
generally coarsening-upward (or shoaling-upward)
sequence, are as follows:


Figure 12.2. Hypothetical shallowing-upward sequence on a low-energy carbonate shelf (from James, 1984).
(1) Surf: This is a transgressive sequence, which
deposits calcarenite or carbonate sand. Transgression
is necessary to get into a shallow marine condition.
The surf may not be present.
(2) Subtidal: Either (a) Lagoonal, where low-energy
conditions prevail (with carbonate mud, bioturbation,
fossils, pellets, oyster banks, washover fans, tidal
channels), or (b) Open marine or shoal, if a highenergy environment (with oolite bank or reef, and may
have characteristics similar to lagoonal deposits).

controlled by many factors, particularly turbidity,

upwelling and steepness of slope.
Reef Development
Four stages of reef development are recognized (Table
Pioneer or stabilization stage. The shoal area is
composed of skeletal fragments. It is an organic bank
which experiences strong currents that prevent vertical
growth of organisms.

stromatolites, wavy cyanobacterial or blue-green algal
beds, bird's eye structures, channels and mudcracks;
mangroves may form in humid regions.

Colonization stage. This is the first true reef growth.

Several centers attach themselves to the stabilized base,
start to grow up and coalesce with other centers to form
a true reef.

(4) Supratidal: Alternating storm deposits (flat pebble

conglomerates) and algal mats with evaporites when
hypersaline, no evaporites if humid.

Diversification stage. The fixed, growing reef creates a

multitude of microenvironments where all sorts of
animals flourish. The main vertical reef growth has
well-developed lateral facies, including the forereef,
backreef and lagoon (see Fig. 12.1).

(5) Terrestrial: This environment has organic

buildups, soils, redbeds if arid and coal if humid.
A reef is a buildup found in the wave zone that is
characterized by a wave-resistant framework (marine
biologists' definition of a true reef). In essence, a
buildup is a carbonate rock with topographic relief
above the surrounding environment. A bioherm is an
in situ accumulation of organisms, whether or not they
are topographically high or wave-resistant. In modern
reefs the framework is mainly composed of
hermatypic scleractinian corals in living position.
However, the presence or absence of a reef belt is

Domination stage. Certain species tend to take over and

dominate the environment, with the net result that the
total number of different species diminish. This
situation arises probably when (a) the reef reaches the
sea level, and/ or (b) high-energy wave environment is
TYPES OF REEFS (Fig. 12.3)
Patch Reef. Isolated more or less circular area of
organic frame-constructed buildups. In modern seas
they are mainly on platforms, and rise into wave base
and close to sea level.


Type of Limestone

Species Diversity


Bindstone to framestone

Low to moderate


Framestone, mudstone to
wackestone matrix



Bafflestone to floatstone
(bindstone) with a mudstone
to wackestone matrix



Grainstone to rudstone
(packestone to wackestone)


Atoll. Ring-shaped organic accumulation in offshore

or oceanic position surrounding a lagoon.
Faro. Ring-shaped organic accumulation with
shallow central lagoon located shelfward of barrier
reef trend.
Barrier Reef. Curvilinear belt of organic accumulation somewhat offshore and separated from the
coast by a lagoon.
Fringe Reef. Curvilinear belt of organic accumulation
built directly out from the coast.

Table 12.1. Stages of reef growth (modified from James, 1984).

Pinnacle (Table) Reef. Conical or steep-sided,

upward-tapering reef.
Mounds. Isolated structures built by smaller, usually
delicate and/or solitary organisms in tranquil settings
in either shallow or deep water.

See Figure 12.14, page 264 in the textbook for the

Phanerozoic evolution of bioherms and reefs.
Reading Assignment: Circular Variation
Carbonates (p. 272-274 in the textbook).


Figure 12.3. Sketch the types of reefs in the space above.


Environments (17 minutes)


The Persian Gulf: Setting; climate; characteristics of the

three zones (supratidal, intertidal, subtidal)

(1 Location of modern carbonates versus location of

Devonian carbonates: what's the lesson here?

The Bahamas: Setting; climate; characteristics of the

three zones (supratidal, intertidal, subtidal)

(2) Three basic settings:

Setting for hydrocarbons:



structures are rare. Two categories are recognized

based on the presence or absence of fossils.


Bedded fossiliferous cherts contain remains of

siliceous organisms such as diatoms (Triassic to
Recent age, account for 80%); radiolarians
(Cambrian to Recent, 19%), and sponge spicules
(Cambrian to Recent). Silicoflagellates and sponge
spicules together account for 1%. They are obviously
biogenic and form when siliceous oozes crystallize.
Examples occur in the Miocene Monterey Formation
and Jurassic-Cretaceous Franciscan Formation of the
California Coast Ranges.

Chert is composed largely or entirely of
cryptocrystalline (or microcrystalline) quartz.
Several varieties occur, e.g., jasper (stained red by
hematite), and flint (stained gray-black by organic
matter). Volumetrically significant cherts exist in
two forms, as nodules in carbonate rocks, and as
bedded cherts. The latter are more commonly
Precambrian in age. Arguments about their origin
has centered largely around two points:
(1) Shallow water vs. deep water, and
(2) Primary chert vs. secondary chert.
Figure 13.1 shows that silica precipitates in acidic
and neutral conditions in the subsurface. Silica
dissolves above pH of 10. Its precipitation is
governed by the following equation, and it is
sourced by fresh silicates and organic siliceous tests.
CaCO3+H2O+CO2+H4SiO4 SiO2+Ca2++HCO3-+ 2H2O

Bedded Cherts
Bedded (or primary) cherts occur as individual bands,
layers or laminae that range in thickness from a few
millimeters up to several meters. The thicknesses of
individual layers are often laterally or vertically
uniform (ribbon cherts), but they can vary. Internal

Nonfossiliferous bedded cherts contain no visible

skeletal remains. Most are probably siliceous oozes
so extensively altered that all fossils have been
destroyed. When these so-called nonfossiliferous
cherts are etched with hydrofluoric acid, fossils are
invariably seen, so few if any bedded cherts are truly
inorganic in origin. What about Precambrian bedded
cherts? How did they form since siliceous fossils did
not evolve until much later? Their origin is uncertain,
but the belief is that, prior to the organisms'
evolution, seawater was saturated with respect to
silica. Given the right conditions (probably low pH in
a closed basin), silica precipitated inorganically.
However, Prothero and Schwab (2004) believe that
Precambrian cherts are probably recrystallized from
organically produced siliceous oozes, although others
may be produced by replacement. They postulate that
some of the small (micron-sized) spherical and
subspherical structures seen in these cherts on SEM
appear to be fossils of Precambrian silica-secreting

Figure 13.1. Stability fields for silica. Seawater pH = 8.3, which is slightly basic.

Nodular Cherts


Nodular (also called secondary or replacement) cherts

occur as fist-shaped, spherical, subspherical, and
ovoidal masses of opal, chalcedony, and quartz
disseminated mainly in shallow water limestone and
dolomite. Nodules vary in size from a few millimeters
to a few centimeters. Individual nodules are often
linked together, forming roughly planar bands and
creating anastomosing networks and lenses of chert.
Variations in color from white to black probably
reflect carbon and water content. Patterns of internal
concentric lamination and color zoning are common.
The sedimentary structures developed in surrounding
carbonate rocks often continue right through the
nodules. Some fossil remains also occur.

Three general models have been proposed for the

formation of evaporites:
(1) Restricted oceanic basin:

General Occurrences of Cherts

(3) Land-locked lakes:

From stratigraphic relationships most cherts appear to

be marine in origin. For example, many bedded cherts
are associated with ophiolites, thereby supporting the
theory of accumulation of siliceous tests in the deep
sea. Nodular chert is interpreted as secondary because
these masses are clearly of diagenetic origin. They
form when silica originally deposited in one place
dissolves, migrates, and precipitates elsewhere,
replacing older material. The dissolved silica is
derived from a variety of sources: detrital quartz
grains that the wind transported onto carbonate banks,
sponge spicules, and microplankton skeleton. Cherts
can also occur in nonmarine situations when brines
associated with volcanic activity exceed a pH of 10,
and corrode silicate minerals for a source of silica.
This terrestrially formed chert is often volumetrically
insignificant and it fits the shallow model of origin.
Knauth (1979) suggested a chert replacement
model for nodular chert, which is similar to the
DORAG model of dolomitization. By mixing sea
water with freshwater, the resultant solution is
oversaturated with respect to silica and undersaturated
with respect to calcium carbonate. Therefore, silica
should replace calcite or aragonite but not dolomite
during early diagenesis. Knauth explained this by
using a prograding carbonate sequence, with cherts
appearing to be in zones that were once porous or just
above impermeable zones. The problem with this
proposal is that prograding carbonate shoreline
sequences are unusual, and there appears to be no
such cherts forming anywhere in the world today!
What are the sources of silica in the marine
environment? Write below:

(2) Coastal playa (sabkha):

There are good modern examples for models #2 and #3

but not for #1, because there is no where in the world
today where massive evaporites are being deposited in
an oceanic basin. Perhaps the closest example would be
the Mediterranean Sea.
Evaporite minerals are precipitated from
reconstructed brines, which are formed as follows.
Rain waterdissolved salts goes into lakelake
dries upbrine.
What is brine?
Brine is a general term used to describe waters in or
from the marine environment, which have been
chemically changed by evaporation, solution, or mixing
with fresh water.
Brine is different from seawater because it has
different minerals. How are they different?


Major evaporite deposits appear to have two
tectonic associations:
(1) Carbonate shelf and starved basins: Classically
called miogeosynclineal basins, these are relatively
stable platforms that sometimes have minor block
faulting. Examples include the Devonian Elkpoint of
Canada, and the Permian Basin of West Texas and
eastern New Mexico.
(2) Redbed and rift association: The presence of redbeds
confirms that continental arid conditions existed at the
time of formation.

In order to get much gypsum (and so little halite),

the system had to be open to the ocean such that the
seawater never got concentrated enough to precipitate
halite. The basin eventually dried up completely for
gypsum deposition to take place. The net result is a
theoretical asymmetry of deposits in the basin (Fig.
13.3). Evaporites form good traps for oil and gas, as in
West Texas, and they also form excellent glide planes
for thrust faults because the minerals are very ductile.



Note the differences between marine and nonmarine

evaporites, and different textures.



Ocean water

One of the major puzzles facing geologists is how

to explain the existences of such thick sequences of salt
as follow:
(a) the Permian Basin (800'-1,200' thick),
(b) Prairie Evaporites (Devonian) of Alberta, British
Columbia and Saskatchewan (800'-1,000' thick),
(c) Zechstein Salt (Permian) of Germany (6,000'
(d) Louann (Triassic-Jurassic) of Gulf Coast
(>3,000' thick), and
(e) Messinian Evaporites (Miocene) in the
Mediterranean (6,000' thick).
What is the significance of the Messinian evaporites?
These thick sequences were almost certainly not due to
periodic influxes. Keeping in mind that there are no
modern analogs for thick sequences, it is possible that
they were formed by density currents and reef
associations. What is considered important and
common (as happened in the Permian Basin) is the
marginal marine hypothesis, i.e., that the basin is open
to the ocean over some barrier (similar to the
Mediterranean) (Fig. 13.2).






Figure 13.3. Theoretical asymmetry of evaporites and carbonate

rock deposition in a marginal marine setting.

Gypsum-Anhydrite Cycle
Anhydrite does not precipitate out of seawater.
However, once gypsum is formed, it can very quickly be
converted to anhydrite, especially in the subsurface.
Therefore, at depths below 2,000 feet, anhydrite is almost
invariably found rather than gypsum. Much of the
gypsum precipitated in the supratidal environment form
anhydrite nodules (see equation below), and most of the
sedimentary structures are destroyed.
CaSO4.2H2O CaSO4+2H2O
In the subsurface where there is low porosity, the
expelled water commonly cause unusually high pore
pressures on the surrounding rocks.
Other diagenetic effects include:


Reading assignments: Ch. 13 and 14 in the textbook



Density layer
Euxinic basin

Figure 13.2. Marginal marine hypothesis for evaporite


Phosphorites (p. 279-282)

Organic-rich sediments: Coal, Petroleum, Oil
Shales and Solid Hydrocarbons (p. 282-293)
Iron-rich sedimentary rocks (p. 300-304)
Note that these sections will be tested in one exam.


Early views on the earth's history centered largely
around the church's interpretation based on the bible
chapter of Genesis. Early stratigraphers believed in
supernatural forces and the earth not being older than
6,000 years. May believed up to the 18th century that
the earth's surficial geology was accounted for by floods
(Noachian deluge in Genesis, chapter 7). An exception
was Leonardo da Vinci (1452 to 1519), a talented artist
and engineer, who contested that the fossil shells found
high up in the Apennine Mountains in Italy could not be
a result of a universal flood. He suggested that layers of
fossil shells in the rocks were formed when such
organisms on sea shores or sea bottoms were covered by
mud, subsequently petrified, and finally uplifted!
In general two schools of thought existed on the
origin of stratified rocks. The neptunists, led by
Abraham Werner, believed that most rocks
precipitated out of floodwaters. On the other hand, the
plutonists believed in the important role of the earth's
heat in the formation of crystalline rocks.

plutonist, recognized two major classes of mountains

and rocks:
(1) Older mountains with non-stratified, massive rocks.
(2) Younger mountains with either stratified rocks or
stratified rocks overlying non-stratified rocks.
Morro also postulated that stratification was due to
volcanic eruptions of liquid rocks, which spread
horizontally and could enclose fossils.
Giovanni Arduino. Italian (1713 to 1795), recognized
three basic divisions of rock:
(1) Primary or primitive:

(2) Secondary:

(3) Tertiary:

Johann Lehmann. German (1719 to 1767), neptunist,

recognized three categories of mountains which paralleled
those of Arduino:

Who were Neptunists and Plutonists named after?

(1) Primitive (Urgebirge or
fossiliferous crystalline rocks



Important Contributors to Stratigraphy

Nicolaus Steno. Danish medical doctor (1638 to 1686),
neptunist, interpreted fossil tonguestones as shark teeth.
He formulated three principles, which are defined

(2) Secondary (Flotzgebirge): Layered mountains

formed from eroded primary mountains; fossiliferous.
(3) Tertiary (Aufgeschwemmptegebirge): Alluvial sands
and gravels, and some volcanic rocks; these are deposits
of earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions.

(1) Superposition:
Abraham Werner. German (1750 to 1817), neptunist,
built upon Lehmann's work. His classification is as
(2) Original horizontality:
(1) Primitive (Urgebirge): Predominantly crystalline and
unfossiliferous rocks; he believed they were the first
chemical precipitates from water during the earth's
(3) Original lateral continuity:

John Woodward. English naturalist (1665 to 1728),

neptunist, recognized the stratified nature of terrestrial
rocks, which are divided by parallel fissures and contain
shells and other organisms.
Anthonio Lazarro Morro. Italian (1687 to 1764), first

(2) Transition (Ubergansgebirge): Transitional series

with few fossils; e.g., graywacke, limestone. He
believed these were mostly chemically precipated but
included some materials that were deposited by
receding seas.
(3) Stratified (Flotzgebirge): Layered fossiliferous
rocks; e.g., limestone, shale, sandstone, coal, which
Werner interpreted as being deposited by the receding

(4) Alluvial (Aufgeschwemmte): Poorly consolidated
alluvial sand, gravel and clay (deposited by running
water since the retreat of the seas).
(5) Volcanic rocks of Recent origin, due to local
natural burning of coal seams.
James Hutton. Scottish farmer (1727 to 1797),
credited for recognizing the following: (1) vastness of
uniformitarianism, (4) and developed the concept of
rock cycling (erosion, deposition, etc.). Hutton also
recognized the effect of heat on the formation of
igneous rocks.
William "Strata" Smith. English surveyor (1769 to
1839), a Surveyor and civil engineer; considered the
father of stratigraphy; discovered:
(1) The principle of faunal and floral succession:

(2) Found that a single formation that is lithologically

homogeneous can be subdivided on the basis of fossil
distribution within it; and
(3) Realized the importance of looking beyond the
superficial similarities of fossils from similar facies
but of different ages.
Charles Lyell. British lawyer-turned-geologist (1795
to 1875), popularized stratigraphy with his threevolume book "Principles of Stratigraphy", based on
William Smith's ideas. He dated Tertiary rocks on the
basis of their fossil content, i.e., any period of time is
characterized by a particular combination of unique
and recognizable species. He also used statistical
methods of determining relative ages of rocks to
arrive at a Tertiary classification.
Note: This list is not exhaustive. Read about
Brongniart, Cuvier, Fchsel, Desmerest and
Playfair (see Prothero, 1990).
Many of the major subdivisions in the stratigraphic
column (periods and higher) were developed primarily
in Europe between the late 18th century and the early
19th century. The time scale was originally based on
distinct suites of rocks and contained fossils, rather than
on the time that the rocks were formed. For example,
white chalk is now known to be equivalent to

the Upper Cretaceous. Therefore, most of the systems

(or periods) as we know them today were names for
different localities in Europe where they form the type
sections. Several divisions were named by two British
men: Adam Sedgwick (1785 to 1873), a Cambridge
professor, and Roderick Murchison (1792 to 1871).
Both men respectively named the Cambrian and
Silurian in Wales, and jointly recognized the Devonian
in SW England. Their recognition of the Late Cambrian
and Early Silurian led to a bitter feud between them.
These units were later named Ordovician by Charles
Lapworth (1842 to 1920). The eras were identified by
the mass extinctions that changed the world's biota. A
summary of the development of the time scale (Fig.
14.1 on page 52) is given below.
Cryptozoic Eonothem (Eon): C.H. Chadwick, 1930;
means "hidden life", prior to the beginning of the
Cambrian. Also called Precambrian; divided into
Hadean, from 4.6 billion years to 3.8 billion years;
Archean, from 3.8 to 22.5 billion years, and
Proterozoic, from 2.5 by to Cambrian (Stanley and
Luczaj, 2015).
Phanerozoic Eonothem: C.H. Chadwick, 1930; means
"evident life," introduced for the Paleozoic, Mesozoic
and Cenozoic Erathems.
Paleozoic Erathem (Era): Sedgwick, 1838 and J.
Phillips, 1840 to 1841; means "ancient life."
Cambrian System (Period): Sedgwick, 1835; based on
graywacke or slate series of England and Wales.
Ordovician: C. Lapworth, 1879; named for intermediate
rocks between Cambrian and Silurian.
Silurian: Murchison, 1835; deposits of Wales.
Devonian: Sedgwick and Murchison, 1839; old
graywacke of Devonshire, SW England, which
correlates with the Old Red Sandstone.
Carboniferous: W. D. Conybeare and W. Phillips, 1822;
named after the coal measures of England, with type
locality in the English Pennines.
Mississippian Subsystem: A. Winchell, 1870; proposed
for the Carboniferous limestones of the USA, which are
typically found in the valley of the Mississippi River.
Pennsylvanian Subsystem: H. S. Williams, 1891;
synonym of the Carboniferous coal measures, welldeveloped in Pennsylvania.
Permian: Murchison, 1841; based on exposures
adjacent to the Ural Mountains, Russia, in the province
of Perm; includes the Lower New Red Sandstone.

Mesozoic Erathem: J.Phillips, 1840; means "middle

sedimentation rates, physical and chemical processes (e.g.,

Milankovitch cycles), growth rates of organisms and
plants, tree rings and biblical accounts. Examples:

Triassic System: F. von Alberti, 1834; three-part

(Trias) "subdivision" or super group of Bunter
Sandstone, Muschelk Group and Keuper Group of
Germany; includes the Upper New Red Sandstone.

(1) Archbishop Ussher of Ireland (1581 to 1665) traced

the origin of the earth from biblical accounts to the
evening of October 22, 4004 BC.

Jurassic: A. van Humboldt, 1799; exposures in the

Jura Mountains of France and Switzerland.

(2) Charles Lyell used the rate of molluscan evolution to

estimate that 240 million years have passed since the

Cretaceous: d'Halloy, 1822; "chalk" from Latin

"creta," exposures in France, corresponding to the
White Cliffs of Dover, SE England.

(3) John Joly in 1899 estimated 90 million years for the

age of the earth from changes in chemical composition of

Cenozoic Erathem: J. Phillips, 1840; means "recent


(4) Estimates from the maximum thicknesses of

sedimentary rocks by several authors vary from 3 to 1,584
million years (Table 14.1).

Tertiary System: Arduino, 1760; oldest term in

stratiphic nomenclature; covers Paleocene to
Paleogene Subsystem: M. Hoernes, 1856; Paleocene,
Eocene and Oligocene.
Paleocene Series (Epoch): W. P. Schimper, 1874;
means "ancient recent" and covers intermediate rocks
between Cretaceous and Eocene rocks in France with
distinctive mammalian fauna.

(5) Lord Kelvin (1824 to 1907) estimated an age <100

million years from the rate of cooling of the earth.

The discovery of radioactivity by the French

man Henri Becquerel in
radiometric dating early in the 20th century.
This is the basis of absolute dating. Radiometric
dating is substantiated by magnetostratigraphy,
and the dates are based on several methods, notably
U-Pb and K-Ar dating. They were used to date the origin
of the earth as 4.6 billion years.

Eocene: C. Lyell. 1833; means "dawn recent."

Oligocene: E. Beyrich, 1854; means " small or little
recent" and proposed to cover Lyell's (and other
workers') Upper Eocene and Lower Miocene.
Neogene Subsystem: M. Hoernes, 1856; includes the
Miocene and Pliocene.
Miocene Series: C. Lyell, 1833; means "less recent."
Pliocene: C. Lyell, 1833; means "more recent."
Quaternary System: J. Desnoyers, 1829; derives its
name from tripartite division of pre-Quaternary time
(primary, secondary and Tertiary) in France; includes
the Pleistocene and Recent.
Pleistocene Series: C. Lyell, 1839; formerly named
Newer Pliocene by Lyell in 1833, means "most
recent" and covers the last glaciation.
Recent or Holocene: C. Lyell, 1833; all post
Pleistocene or post-Tertiary rocks.
Numerical and Relative Dating
Relative dating is carried out by means of fossils,




de Lapparent




Thickness (ft)




Rate of
(yrs/1 ft)




of years)

Based on estimates of max. thicknesses of sedimentary rocks.

Spread evenly over the land areas.
Rate of denudation.

Table 14.1. Estimates of the age of the earth (from Prothero,

1990, based on Holmes, 1913).

Who actually discovered radioactive decay?







1.8 m.y.

23 m.y.




200 m.y.
251 m.y.


1st dogs and bears

1st horses
End of ammonites & dinosaurs
First flowers

145 m.y.


Mammals dominate;
many flowers

1st elephants
65.5 m.y.


Stone age man

1st pigs and apes



Modern man





Dinosaurs on land;
ammonites in seas
1st mamals
Redbeds & evaporites
Breakup of Pangea
Rise of reptiles

299 m.y.

1st reptiles

318 m.y.

Coal forests

359 m.y.

Many amphibians

416 m.y.
444 m.y.

Many fishes
1st land plants
1st coral reefs

488 m.y.
542 m.y.
700+ my
Cryprozoic or Precambrian

1.5 b.y.
2.0 b.y.

1st fishes
Rise of invertebrates;
many trilobites
1st hard parts
Worms & algae
1st sexual repoduction
1st double-walled organisms
Many stromatolites
1st free oxygen

2.5 b.y.

3.1 b.y.

1st recorded organisms

3.8 b.y.

4.38 b.y.
4.6 b.y.

Figure 14.1. The geologic time scale.

1st granitic crust

Origin of the Earth



contacts where erosion cannot be demonstrated, the

facies were probably formed in depositional
environments that are widely separated in space.
Synsedimentary burrows sometimes result in mixed
or inverted contacts.

The term "facies" is generally credited to the Swiss
geologist Amanz Gressly who first proposed the
concept in 1838. A facies is a body of rock with
specified characteristics. It is defined on the basis of
color, bedding, composition, texture, fossils and
sedimentary structures. Facies are usually applied to
denote consistent characteristics in rocks. For
example, lithofacies places emphasis on physical and
chemical characteristics (i.e., lithology), whereas
biofacies refers to a situation where primary
consideration is given to the biologic or paleontologic
content. Log facies and seismic facies have now been
added to facies usage with increasing use of
subsurface data in environmental analysis. In strict
sense a facies should be a distinctive rock formed
under certain conditions of sedimentation, which
reflect a particular process or environment.




Figure 15.1. Common types of contacts between facies.

Cycles. These are repeated patterns of facies or cyclic

sedimentation, which are called cyclothems or rhythms
(Fig. 15.2). Cyclic sedimentation takes place as a result of
(a) repeated subsidence, (b) uplift, (c) changes in sea
level, and (d) oscillating sediment supply. Interpretations
of cyclothems can be very subjective.

Walther's Law
The importance of facies in sedimentology and
stratigraphy was recognized by Johannes Walther,
who introduced the law of the correlation of facies in
1894. This law states that "facies that occur in
conformable vertical successions of strata were
formed in laterally adjacent environments." By
using this law it is possible to make a logical
interpretation of stratigraphic successions; e.g., a
lagoon should separate a barrier from the coastal plain,
while the shoreface and shelf are seaward of a barrier.
In unconformable successions a break may represent
the passage of any number of environments whose
products were subsequently removed. Therefore, the
preservation potential of environments and their
constituents, especially in subaerial and subaqueous
environments, is very important in the application of
Walther's law. Of more importance is the rate of
burial. Environments that accumulate thick sequences
rapidly (e.g., deltas) have a good preservation potential
while dunes accumulating above sea level are very
vulnerable to erosion.
Facies relationships
When interpreting facies sequences, stratigraphers
must look out for certain relationships that include the
Contacts. Three main types of contacts exist, namely,
gradational, sharp and erosional (Fig. 15.1). In sharp

Cycle 2

Cycle 1

Figure 15.2. A hypothetical succession showing two cyclothems.

Associations and Sequences. Facies that occur together

are called associations, and they are considered to be
genetically or environmentally related. Successions of
facies within associations may be random or in preferred
order; e.g., thick-bedded turbiditic sandstones may be
interbedded with conglomerates, slump deposits and
mudstones, while thin-bedded forms may be interbedded
with mudstones alone.
A facies sequence is a series of facies that pass
gradually from one into the other, and they are usually
bounded by sharp or erosive bases and tops. Such
sequences may occur alone or may be cyclic. In clastics,
two types of sequences are recognized: coarseningupward and fining-upward sequences. They may reflect
(a) local sedimentological controls (migration of rivers,
progradation), and/or (b) external controls (sea level
oscillations, climatic changes, tectonic movements, etc.).



Several factors affect the distribution of facies. Their

relative importance varies between different
environments and they are usually interrelated with
one another. The following discussion is based on
views by Reading (1986), Schoch (1989), Davis
(1992), Boggs (2012) and Prothero and Schwab
Sedimentary Processes. These are all the processes
that are responsible for sedimentation in any given
environment. They include: tidal influence, sediment
instability or slumping, synsedimentary movements,
water velocity, and catastrophic events.
What are the settings of these processes?

sequences have fining-upward profiles. Why would sea

level rise not be accompanied by transgession?

Regression: This occurs when the supply of terrigenous

sediments is more important than subsidence and rise in
sea level. The net effects are progradation and increase in
the proportion of continental facies, resulting in
coarsening-upward profiles.
Climate. Temperature and rainfall are the main climatic
factors that affect facies formation, although wind levels
may be locally important in eolian facies. Seasonal
extremes and sporadic fluctuations of climatic factors are
particularly important.
Temperature indicators in the stratigraphic record

Sediment Supply. The type of sediment available is

fundamental to facies formation, and so does the amount
of sediment supply control the thickness of depositional
facies. Sediment supply comes from two sources:
(a) Extrabasinal or terrigenous:
(b) Intrabasinal or biochemical:

Rainfall indicators:

Therefore, climate is a measure of paleolatitude and is a

universal facies factor.
Tectonics. This is another universal factor, which governs
the broad distribution of highlands, basins, geographical
framework of sediment supply, and climate. Tectonics
can cause local facies changes across fault lines.

Therefore, within any environment, effect of sediment

supply depends mainly on sediment availability,
subsidence and sea level changes.
Sea level Changes. These changes may be eustatic or
local. Eustatic sea level fluctuations are due to changes in
the volume of ocean water or ocean basins as a result of
tectonics (sea floor spreading) and possibly glaciations.
Local changes are due to sediment input, sediment
loading of the crust, vertical tectonic movement, and
isostatic depression and rebound. Two basic situations
result from sea level changes: transgression and
regression (progradation).
Transgression: This situation (also called retrogression)
arises when subsidence and rise in sea level are more
important than the supply of terrigenous sediments. The
environment deepens and there is an increase in
chemically and biologically formed (intrabasinal)
sediments. Erosion, reworking and diagenesis of
sediments are also common features. Transgressive

Biological Activity. Organic sedimentation results

from the actions of living and dead plants and animals,
such as accumulation of thick plant debris to form coal,
formation of reefs, diatomites, etc. Organisms are closely
associated with chemical precipitates, which have strong
effects on the pH and Eh of sediment pore waters.
Water Chemistry. Variations in the salinity, pH, and
composition of sea and lake waters affect facies
formation. Water chemistry is influenced by climate and
oceanic circulations. It governs the formation of
carbonates, phosphates and other chemical precipitates.
Local accumulations of oozes (e.g., diatomites) result
from upwelling of nutrient-rich waters, which is tied to
oceanic circulation.
Volcanism. Volcanism provides local sources of
sediments and ions in solution. The existence of volcanic
hills and islands (e.g., in the ocean) cause rapid changes

The concept of unconformities is fundamental to
stratigraphic studies. It was first recognized by James
Hutton in the Isle of Arran, Scotland, in 1787.
Unconformity is a rock term which represents any of
the following:
any significant break in time within a stratigraphic
olumn; or
any important stratigraphic discontinuity; or
an interval representing missing time which leaves
no tangible stratigraphic record.
Thus, an unconformity represents either a surface
of non-deposition, a surface of erosion, or a
combination of the two. Diastem is a term used to
describe a short break marking a period of nondeposition, e.g., a bedding plane. In a more general
sense a lacuna denotes a considerable time span
missing from the rock record, and is composed of a
degradational vacuity (a break due to erosion), and a
hiatus (a time interval when strata where never
Types of unconformities (Fig. 15.3)
Angular Unconformity. This represents an angular
discordance separating two units of stratified rocks. It
normally results from large-scale diastrophism, and
should not be confused with horizontal bedding
overlying large-scale cross-bedding.
Nonconformity. This is recognized where stratified
rocks succeed nonstratified rocks, i.e., igneous and
metamorphic rocks. The unconformable surface is
usually erosive.
Disconformity. In this type of unconformity, an
erosional surface of appreciable relief separates
parallel bedded sedimentary rocks.
Paraconformity. The bedding of the rocks above and
below a paraconformity are parallel, and the unconformable surface is a normal bedding plane.
Biostratigraphic evidence is used to recognize such
obscure unconformities.
Criteria Used for Recognition of Unconformities

Figure 15.3 Four major types of unconformities (from Boggs,


Example: The Grand Canyon (Fig. 15.10, p. 336 in the

Lithologic correlation primarily involves the
correlation of geographically separated parts of a
single lithostratigraphic unit. Because of lateral
facies changes, most sedimentologists do not refer
to lithologic correlation as time equivalence.
Physical and chemical criteria of correlation
Each of the following methods has serious pitfalls,
which make the task of the stratigrapher rather
Physical Continuity. This method involves tracing of
individual beds from one section to another. It is,
theoretically at least, one of the most reliable
methods of correlation, and is based on the
assumption that deposition of a thin, traceable bed
took a relatively short time span. The method has
several limitations:


Stratigraphic Position. Each lithologic unit occupies a

unique position with respect to other subadjacent and
superadjacent strata in the same area. Once the
stratigraphic succession is established in one area,
recognition of an identical succession in an equivalent
stratigraphic horizon in another area strongly suggests
Unconformities. Unconformities can be obvious
markers on a regional scale, and are good tie points
unconformities do complicate the process of
correlation in certain instances. One of the main
limitations of this method is that the rocks above and
below an unconformity may not correlate because the
lacuna above and below an unconformity can increase
in size over distance.
Radiometric Dating. Age determination based on the
decay of radioactive minerals furnish precise criteria for
correlation. The common methods used are U-Pb, K-Ar
and Rb-Sr. Again, there are limitations. For example,
more precise dates are achieved from U-Pb which occur
mostly in igneous and metamorphic rocks, and
radioactive minerals have spotty occurrences in
sedimentary rocks. There is also unsatisfactory
precision of most radiometric dates because of addition
or loss of elements through geologic time.
Reading Assignment: Time Correlation (p. 342-345
in the textbook)

Lithologic Similarities. Rocks in different areas may
resemble one another in various respects, e.g.,
expressions and weathering characteristics. The
greater the number of characters that can be
matched, the better the correlation. The occurrence
of a key bed, e.g. coal, in an area is useful if the key
bed is not repeated in the sequence. The main
limitation of this correlation method is that similarity
in lithologic characters may be a reflection of
similar environments of deposition and similar
source areas, and not of time. Hence environmental
correlation should be distinguished from time
correlation. Geophysical well logs are used for
subsurface correlation.

Four major categories of units are used for stratigraphic

(1) Lithostratigraphy or rock units: classification on the
basis of lithologic characters.
(2) Biostratigraphy: stratigraphic distribution of fossils,
used for defining biozones.
(3) Geochronology or geologic time units: abstract
concept marked by changes in radioactive decay, fossil
faunas, etc.
(4) Chronostratigraphy or time-rock units: sum total of
rocks formed worldwide during a specified increment of
geologic time. Boundaries are generally established by
biostratigraphy and radiometric data.

The hierarchy of the units can be shown as follows:

Time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!Time-Rock


that the subdivisions
of periods usually begin
Lower or Early, Middle,

be published in a recognizable scientific medium,

following the rule of priority. The statement of
intention should be made known right at the
beginning of the exercise. The author should state if
a new unit is being proposed or an existing formal or
informal unit is being modified. The following steps
are normally adhered to when naming or revising
units. (Important: Always include the title of
every step in any discussion)
(1) Name and rank of unit: State whether it is
lithostratigraphic (group, formation, member),
chronostratigraphic, biostratigraphic, etc.

(2) Locations of type (stratotype) and reference

sections, including a map or air photograph.

Upper or Late Cambrian. Early and late relate to


Rock Units
Rock units have a hierarchy but they do not have a
time connotation. The fundamental unit of
lithostratigraphy is the formation. This must have
identifiable and distinct characteristics, and must be
mappable on the earth's surface or traceable in the
subsurface. A formation is named after the
geographic feature (e.g., town, river) near which it is
well developed, and must start with an upper case
letter (e.g., Gasconade Formation, Bonneterre
Dolomite). In informal usage it should not be so,
e.g., the sandstone formations in Missouri.
Formations can be either lumped into groups or
subdivided into members.

(3) Detailed description of the unit in the stratotype:

Include information on the character and height of
the section or well depth of contacts.

(4) Local and regional aspects: Comment on

geographic extent, variations in thickness,
composition, etc.

(5) Graphic log of the unit: Include geophysical logs of

subsurface units


(6) Location of curated reference material, e.g.,

university, museum.

Stratigraphic nomenclature is extensive and

comprehensive, and is governed by formal codes,
such as the North American Commission on
Stratigraphic Nomenclature (2005; reprinted in
Appendix A in the textbook) and the international
stratigraphic guide edited by Salvador (1994). In
order to formally designate a stratigraphic unit, the
intent and description must

(7) Correlation with other units: Comment on temporal,

spatial or any other relationship to contemporaneous
units in adjacent areas. Any information on age and the
basis for assignment should be discussed.






Biostratigraphy is the use of fossils for dating and

stratigraphic correlation. It is the basis for
chronostratigraphy or rock-time units. The distribution
of fossils in the rock record is controlled by the
following factors:


(1) Evolution: This refers to the progressive changes in

species through time. Its use is based on the sequential,
non-repeating appearance of fossils called irreversibility
of evolution. The presence of a single fossil can be used
very accurately for dating and correlation, unlike
lithology, magnetic polarity, isotopic composition, etc.


(2) Paleoecology: This is the study of the factors that

govern the distribution and abundance of plants and
animals in natural environments. Because many
organisms are facies-controlled, they can not be found
everywhere and used for correlation. Very often
organisms migrate with their environments over time
and may not change evolutionally, e.g., the inarticulate
brachiopod Lingula.
(3) Migration: Where there are no geographical barriers,
immigrations and emigrations of organisms take place,
making them widespread for correlation.
(4) Preservation and discovery: These are favored by the
presence of hard parts, marine depositional
environments, reducing conditions, rock preservation
(no recrystallization or metamorphism) and luck.
Both evolution and paleoecology are the most important
factors and they tend to be conflicting sometimes.
Types of Fossils
Three major categories of fossils occur:
(1) Body fossils: Actual remains of plants and animals,
such as bones and shells.
(2) Trace fossils: Evidence of activities by organisms;
e.g. footprints, tracks, and burrows.
(3) Chemical fossils: Organic remains that are extracted
from rocks, such as spores and pollen.
Index Fossils
Not all fossils are useful for dating rocks. Only a
handful can be used to define a particular time. These
are referred to as index or guide fossils. Their
characteristics include but are not limited to the


Well known index fossils include trilobites (used for
zoning the Cambrian period), graptolites (Ordovician
and Silurian), ammonites (Jurassic and Cretaceous),
(Cretaceous and Cenozoic) and foraminifera
(Cenozoic). Land organisms present special problems
because hard parts oxidize and break down easily, and
the probability of preservation is <1%. Also, several
barriers can hamper migration over land.
The vertical stratigraphic distribution of a fossil is called
a range, and a compilation of ranges is termed zonation.
Therefore, a zone is marked by a species' or group of
species' first and last appearances. The various classes
of biostratigraphic zones are called biozones, and they
are controlled mainly by evolution, extinction,
immigration, emigration and environment. Four types
of biozones are generally used, some of which are
illustrated in Figure 16.1.
Assemblage zones. Also called oppel zones, these are
natural associations of three or more fossil taxa. They
are usually locally- and environmentally- controlled,
and they have vague boundaries.
Range zones. These give the total range of useful
elements in the fauna. A taxon range zone is named
after one particular species, while a concurrent range
zone is that with overlapping stratigraphic ranges.
Range zones have a more general application. Four
methods are used in recognizing concurrent range zones
(see Fig. 16.2).
Abundance zones. Also called peak or acme zones, they
are marked by the maximum abundance of a particular
species, and therefore not the total range.
Interval zones. These are intervals between two distinct
biostratigraphic horizons, and they may lack fossils.


Figure 16.1. Classes of interval zones. (A) Concurrent range zones, defined by the first and last appearance of
two or more taxa with overlapping ranges. (B) Taxon range zone, defined by the first and last appearance of a
single taxon. (C) Lineage zones, or phytozones, defined by the evolutionary first appearance of successive taxa
in a lineage. (D) Interval zones, defined by two successive first or last occurrences of partially overlapping
ranges (from Hedberg, 1976).

Figure 16.2. Four methods of recognizing concurrent range zones in a single section. Widths of lines indicate
relative abundance of specimens. Note that each method gives a slightly different zonation (from Eicher, 1976).

Biological Criteria for Correlation

Quantitative Biostratigraphy

The use of paleontological criteria in correlation

assumed primary importance after William
Smith's recognition of the principle of faunal
succession. This success has been enhanced by
the irreversibility of evolution. The major criteria
used for correlation are:

Graphic Correlation. Introduced by A.B. Shaw

(1964), graphic correlation is very popular. It can be
used for correlating two local sections and on a
regional basis. It involves plotting the first and last
appearance of species in two sections on two axes, to
produce a line of correlation. If the rates of
accumulation in the two sections are equal, then a
straight-line correlation is produced (Fig. 16.3). If the
species ranges have the same spacing but the sections
have different rates of accumulation, a straight line
will still be obtained. However, the correlation line
will be deflected toward the axis with a higher
accumulation rate (Fig. 16.4) For two sections that
have different rates of accumulation, a change in
slope will form a "dogleg" kink (Fig. 16.5). When
two sections have the same taxa but one section has
an unconformity or a fault, a "step" or "plateau" is
produced (Fig. 16.6).

(1) Index fossils: When used, it is assumed that

the strata in which index fossils occur were
deposited during the life span of the fossils.
(2) Faunal or floral similarity: Statistical
comparison of common species between two local
sequences, the age of one of which is known. This
method is used in the absence of index fossils.
Care should also be exercised not to use
ecologically controlled organisms.
(3) Stage of evolution: Genera that exhibit
progressive evolutionary advancement can be
used for correlation. If the general evolutionary
sequence is established in one area, strata in other
areas can be correlated with this on the basis of
the evolutionary advancement of the contained
Problems in Correlation
(1) Presence of breaks in the stratigraphic record.
(2) physical and biological facies change.
(3) Reworking of fossil faunas and floras.
(4) Migration of faunas with their environments.
(5) Strong ecological control of floras and faunas.
(6) Incompleteness of the fossil record.
Reading Assignment: North American Land
Mammal Ages and Biochronology (p. 375-376 in
the textbook)

Probabilistic Stratigraphy. This was invented by

William Hay in 1972. The method does not require
the measured thicknesses that are essential to graphic
correlation. Instead, the database consists of the order
of appearance of biostratigraphic events in multiple
parallel sections. The biostratigrapher is concerned
with the probability of such event, and the
probabilistic calculation is handled by the computer.
Multivariate Methods. Multivariate methods detect
similarities between data sets, and again, and they are
handled by the computer. Cluster analysis (Fig. 16.7),
principal correlation components analysis, principal
coordinates analysis, and correspondence analysis are
some of the methods used for assessment of
similarity. For more information, read Edwards
(1982) and Prothero (1990).
Rational Strategies. This approach analyzes the
relationships between the ranges of all the taxa two at
a time (say A and B). Three possible relationships
exist: the range of species A is totally below that of
B, totally above it, or overlaps it. By extending this
rational procedure pair-wise through the entire data
set, the computer can generate an order of occurrence
of all the taxa in the data set.


Prothero and Schwab, 2014

Prothero and Schwab, 2014


Prothero and Schwab, 2014

Prothero and Schwab, 2014


Figure 16.7. Multivariate cluster analysis method of correlation. (A) Lithostratigraphy and position of the trilobite
samples from upper Franconia Sandstone (Upper Cambrian) of southern Minnesota. (B) Q-mode dendrogram
resulting from comparison of 65 samples containing 2 trilobite species. (C) Summary of the larger dendrogram,
showing four major clusters. (D) Biostratigraphic interpretation of results. (E) Principal components analysis of the
trilobite data, projected on the first and third eigenvectors (from Hazel, 1977).


Subsurface information is used for interpretation in
places where outcrops are limited. Such geophysical
techniques as well logging and reflection seismology
are used for correlation purposes. Information on
lithology, porosity, etc. can be derived from
recovered subsurface materials, i.e., conventional
cores, (most reliable) sidewall cores, and ditch
cuttings (least reliable). In drilled boreholes, the
drilling mud helps to lubricate the drilling area and
keep the subsurface pressure down. Well logging has
been undertaken extensively by the international
firm, called SCHLUMBERGER. There are several
types of logs, each of which measures different

Resistivity Logs
Resistivity logs were used along with the SP log until
the development of more advanced techniques. They
measure the resisitivity of fluids in surrounding rocks
to an applied electrical current. There are three types:
16-inch (40-cm/ short normal) log, 64-inch (160-cm/
long normal) log, and 18'8" laterolog. Resistivity
increases with decreasing pore space, and the curves
are usually displayed alongside SP/gamma-ray logs
(Fig. 17.2). Note that salt water infiltrated by drilling
mud shows high resisitivity and can be mistaken for
oil. If spacing is increased, it will shift to the left.
Note: The greater the spacing, the more accurate the


Low resistivity or
high conductivity
(salt water)

Spontaneous Potential (SP) Log

The SP log measures the electrical potential (movement of ions) in the borehole, and is therefore a
measure of permeability (it does not assign a
permeability value). Shales are impermeable, hence
their reading is near zero or positive (shale base line,
Fig. 17.1). Sandstones are permeable with near
negative readings. If a formation fluid is better
conducting than the drilling mud (e.g., salt water), the
SP curve will deflect to the left. If the formation fluid
is fresh water or oil, it will deflect to the right.
However, if the SP detects high porosity and
permeability, such a formation would deflect to the



Could be due to:

(1) gas, (2) oil,
(3) freshwater (no SP),
(4) dense rock (e.g. limestone)
or calcite cement in sandstone

Figure 17.2. Possible responses of resistivity log and

GR/SP logs.

Gamma-Ray Log


This type of log measures the natural gamma radiation of

rocks, from the g decay of 40K to argon in potassium
feldspar, micas, clays and organic matter. It is not
surprising therefore that shales, which are rich in the
above minerals, have the highest gamma-ray values. The
log response is similar to SP but is measured in API units
(Fig. 17.3) and is used for determining depositional
environments, and for correlation.


Shale base line


Figure 17.1. A hypothetical SP log showing reflections for

shale, sandstone and limestone.

SP logs are used to (a) detect permeable beds; (b)

locate their boundaries, thereby permitting
correlation and the interpretation of depositional
environments; (c) determine the values for formation
water resistivity; and (d) give qualitative indication of
bed shaliness.


Figure 17.3. A typical gamma-ray log response.

Along with SP log, GR shapes depict certain
depositional environments and sea level
fluctuations. For example, a large-scale
coarsening-upward sequence (Fig. 17.4A) often
depicts progradation, and individual coarseningupward units may represent coastal barrier and
shoreface sequences. A fining-upward sequence
(Fig. 17.4B) often indicates transgression on a
large scale, while individual units may be
distributary channel-fills or point bar sequences.

Dual laterolog







Salt water

Tight sandstone
or limestone

may be gas

Coastal plain



Figure 17.6. Responses of gamma-ray/SP logs, dual

laterolog and sonic log.

Marine shale


Figure 17.4. Gamma-ray log shapes. A, Coarsening-upward

sequence depicting progradation; B, Fining-upward
sequence representing transgression.

Porosity Logs
Three main types of porosity logs are used:
(1) Formation density log: Measures the density
of rocks as a function of porosity (Fig. 17.5).
(2) Neutron log: Measures the amount of
hydrogen present in rocks, which reflects the
amount of fluid-filled porosity (Fig. 17.5).
(3) Sonic log: Measures sound wave velocity
(interval transit time), which is dependent on
porosity. It is quite useful for correlation (Fig.




Dipmeter Logs
Often referred to as the geologist's log, dipmeter is
especially useful in petroleum exploration. Its
primary aim is the measurement of the magnitude
and direction of slope of sedimentary features, such
as bedding. For example, a bedding surface cutting
across a borehole at some angle will cause
microresistivity changes to be recorded on the
dipmeter curve, which is recorded with four-tool pad
electrodes. Dip measurements are mathematically
digitized to give arrow plots.
Dip trends. Dip trends can be used to interpret or
recognize structural features (faults, folds) and
stratigraphic features (depositional environments).
Different trends in magnitude and aximuth can
increase with depth, decrease, remain constant, or can
be erratic/chaotic (Figure 17.7). For ease of reference
oil company workers use colors to designate the
1) Constant or zero dip: This trend is generated by
flat, horizontal bedding (Fig. 17.7A), or tilted,
horizontal beds caused by large-scale tectonism (Fig.
17.7B). Oil company color is green.




Figure 17.5. Responses of gamma-ray/SP, formation

density and neutron logs, with an example from a reservoir

2) Dip increases with depth: Thickening of beds in

down-dip direction (Figs. 17.7C, D); also produced
by folds and faults and by differential compaction.
Red color.
3) Dip decreases with depth: Indicative of crossbedding, and down-dip thinning possibly due to
differential compaction beneath a denser overlying
deposit (Figs. 17.7E, F). Blue color.

4) Erratic dip: May show up blank on dipmeter
plot, and can form in the breccia zone of a fault
(Fig. 17.7G).

(2) Dipmeters do not work well in deviated holes

drilled down-dip because of simple geometry

Faults. Faults will only show up if one of the

following situations exist:

(3) Red pattern = decrease in dip upwards.

Blue pattern = increase in dip upwards.
Green pattern = no change in dip.

a zone of breccia. (FIG. 17.7G)

a series of parallel fault planes which are quite
closely spaced, and the beds between them are
not broken (Fig. 17.8A).
a change of dip from one block to the other
(Fig. 17.8B).
a zone of progressive distortion on one or both
sides of the fault (Figs. 17.8C, D).
From the above situations, it can be seen that
faults may be red or blue.
undetected because there is no dip change (Fig.
17.9A). Angular unconformities show changes in
dip direction, and this is similar to the case with
faults. However, rocks below unconformities dip
more steeply because they are older (Fig. 17.9B).
Therefore, unconformities are normally red.
Folds. Depending on the type of fold, the dip
pattern is variable (Fig. 17.10). For example, an
asymmetric syncline shows a decrease and then
progressively increases with depth (Fig. 17.10D).
Sedimentary environments. The dip pattern
depends on the type of environment (Fig. 17.11).
Comments about some of these environments can
be found in the section below.
Comments About Dipmeters and Some Rules
of Thumb
(1) Dipmeter will not give good data in rugose
(washed out) holes.

(4) Faults can be red or blue.

(5) Unconformities are normally red.
(6) Current bedding is normally blue or chaotic
within sandstones.
(7) Channel sands: Normally red with dips toward the
axis of the channel. Some blues (cross beds)
intermixed, but overall pattern is red. Channel sands
should be fining upward on gamma ray and SP logs.
(8) Barrier island: Red with dips away from the axis
of the barrier island. Some blues (cross beds)
intermixed. Should be coarsening upward on gamma
ray and SP logs
(9) Reefs: Core of the reef will be chaotic dips.
Drape over the crest will be red with dips away from
the crest. If the reef has foundered, underlying beds
will be blue and dip towards the reef.
(10) Distributary mouth bar sands will give blue
patterns that theoretically dip seaward at about 10.
Should be coarsening upward on gamma ray and SP
(11) According to Schlumberger (1986), water depths
can be identified by whether dips are chaotic
(shallow water, high energy) or regular (deep water,
turbidites) (see Fig. 17.12).
(12) Prograding submarine fans are supposed to give
blue patterns, and submarine channels should again
be red with dips toward the axes of the channels.


Figure 17.7 Dip trends. A, No dip, horizontal bedding; B, Constant dip, tilted bedding; C, Dip increasing with
depth, down-dip thickening; D, Dip increasing with depth,, drape and channel filling; E, Dip decreasing with
depth, cross-bedded strata; F, Dip decreasing with depth, differential compaction beneath a sand lens; G, Erratic
dips, breccia zone of a fault (from Schlumberger, 1986).


Figure 17.8. Dip patterns in faulted horizons. A, Series of parallel fault planes; B, Change in dip across fault
plane; C, Drag along the fault plane, upper block; D, drag along the fault plane, upper and lower blocks (from
Schlumberger, 1986).

Figure 17.9. Dipmeter results from some unconformities. A, Disconformity; B, Angular unconformity.


Figure 17.10. Variable dipmeter patterns in folded structures. A, Symmetric fold, anticline; B, Symmetric fold,
syncline; C, Overturned anticline; D, Asymmetric fold, anticline; E, Asymmetric fold, Syncline; F, Recumbent
anticline; G, Plunging anticline.


Figure 17.11. Dipmeter results from different depositional environments. A, Distributary channel sand,
Louisiana; B, Dipmeter log of a well drilled southeast of a reef; C and D, Dipmeter data from wells drilled in a
turbidite environment.

Figure 17.12. Depositional depths estimated from dipmeter data.


Reflection seismology is primarily concerned with
compressional or longitudinal waves, which are
elastic body waves in which the particle motion is in
the direction of propagation. Geologists and
geophysicists have now begun considering shear or
transverse waves and surface waves more seriously in
seismic reflection studies.
Reflection is a process of convolution and it is
produced by abrupt changes in seismic velocity,
which usually denote a sharp contrast in density.
Reflection coefficient f() = 22 11
2 2 + 1 1
where = density, and = velocity.
Figure 17.13 illustrates the basic principle of seismic
reflection. For example, a very dense medium will
have high velocity whereas less dense medium (e.g..
gas) will record low velocity. Three-dimensional and
4-dimensional seismic reflection seismology are now
being widely employed by geophysical companies,
instead of the conventional 2-D method.

Seismic Profiles
The vertical scale of seismic profiles is the two-way
travel time, which may or may not be linearly related
to actual lithologic thicknesses. Profiles are produced
by changes in density (e.g., bedding) and they are used
to identify large-scale underground structures and
unconformities. Most times, only the most prominent
lithologic breaks appear on the seismic record. Unlayered structures are characterized by a random
scatter of reflections, such as the core of a reef, and a
salt dome (Fig. 17.14).

Figure 17.14. The reflection-free interior of a salt dome

(from Anstey, 1984).

Seismic profiles are used for facies analysis, and

distinctive features give clues to depositional
environments. For example, three-dimensional
seismic shows meandering stream systems and fan
systems; and reefs and salt domes show up as
mounds. In general, nonmarine beds have jagged
reflections with many discontinuous horizons, but
quiet marine beds have smooth, continuous and
homogeneous reflections.
Relations of Strata to Surfaces of Unconformities
The six patterns discussed below are illustrated in
Figure 17.15.

Figure 17.13. The basic principle of seismic reflection. A, When a

layer of seismic wave is generated, the geophone picks up the
waves two-way travel time down to a reflecting layer and back. B,
Moving the shot point and geophone generates a series of
reflections of the layer. C, These reflections show up as the wiggly
trace on the seismic record, which can be correlated across the
profile (from Anstey, 1982).

Erosional truncation. Strata at the top of a given

sequence terminate against the upper boundary,
mainly as a result of erosion; e.g., tilted strata
terminating against a horizontal erosional surface.
Toplap. Initially inclined strata at the top of a
sequence terminate against the upper boundary as a
result of non-deposition.

Downlap. At the base of a sequence, initially
inclined strata terminate down-dip against initially
horizontal or inclined strata.
Onlap. At the base of a sequence, initially
horizontal strata terminate progressively against
initially inclined surface; or initially inclined
strata terminate progressively against a surface of
greater inclination.
Concordance. Relationship in which strata at the
top and base of a sequence do not terminate
against the upper and lower boundaries,
respectively. Synonymous with paraconformity.
Overstep or overlap. Relationship between beds
unconformity. This is usually recognized on a
regional scale.

Fluctuations in sea level are important driving
mechanisms for shifting depositional environments in
space. Consequently, some strata are buried and
preserved in the stratigraphic record according to
Walther's law. Others may be eroded and represented
by unconformities. Sloss (1963) was one of the first
stratigraphers to recognize extensive, large scale
cycles in the stratigraphic record of North America.
These unconformity-bounded cycles or sequences are
thicker near the continental margins (geosynclines)
and thinner in the cratonic interior (Fig. 17.16). Each
typically starts with thick quartz sandstone at the
base, which is overlain by carbonate rocks and
increasing shales toward the cratonic edge. Some of
the boundaries may be marked by tectonic events,
e.g. Sauk-Tippecanoe boundary experienced Taconic
orogeny in eastern U.S.A. These unconformities can
be matched up between some continents.
Stratigraphic Cycles and Their Causes

Erosional truncation





Overstep or overlap

Figure 17.15. Relations of strata to surfaces of


Vail Curves
Seismic reflections have revolutionized sequencee
stratigraphy in the last 25 years. They were used
to develop the Vail curves, which interpret the
fluctuations in sea levels throughout geologic
time. These were based on the recognition of
unconformity surfaces discussed above.

Using seismic and other data from passive margins of

several continents in the 1970's, Peter. R. Vail (now
at Rice University, Houston, Texas) and his
colleagues at Exxon Oil Company recognized
packages of sediments that are bounded by
unconformities. These sequences appear to be
correlative all over the world, and occur on a much
smaller scale "time-wise" than the North American
sequences recognized by Sloss (1963) This led to the
development of the Vail curves which describe sea
level changes through geologic time. Vail and others
(Vail et al. 1977, Haq et al, 1987, 1988) described
four types of cycles which represent small, medium
and large scale sea level cycles of onlap and offlap.
They used seismic reflection techniques to recognize
the cycles, and then tied their data to surface outcrop
studies for recognition of unconformities.
The unconformable surfaces were formed during
falls in sea level. Several higher-order cycles (up to
seventh-order) are recognized in many sequences,
such as the Late Cretaceous Book Cliffs in Utah. The
term sequence stratigraphy is used to denote the
integration of all aspects of seismic reflections and
rock sequences in the interpretation of sea level
changes and chronostratigraphy. Hence, sequence
stratigraphy is the study of genetically related
chronostratigraphically significant surfaces.


Figure 17.16. Sloss' diagram of the time-stratigraphic relationships of unconformity-bounded

sequences in North America. Dark areas represent large gaps in the stratigraphic record, which
become smaller toward the continental margins. Light areas represent strata (from Sloss, 1963).
First-Order Cycles Similar to the super-cycles of
Fischer (1981, 1982), these cycles have durations
of 200 to 400 million years (Fig. 17.17). They
have been related to major plate movements,
which resulted in the formation and breakup of
the supercontinent Pangaea.
Second-Order Cycles. These are eustatic cycles
caused by changes in oceanic ridge volume and
sea floor spreading rates. For example, rapid
periods of seafloor spreading increased ridge
volume, causing a rise in sea level. They are 10 to
100 million years in duration (Fig. 17.17) and
correspond to Sloss' sequences in North America.
Recently, some workers (e.g., Hubbard, 1988)
have related these cycle boundaries to local
tectonic activity, suggesting that the second-order
cycles may not be on a global scale. However,
their formation is probably a combination of
worldwide sea level changes with tectonics
accounting for differences between basins at
different places on the globe.

Third-Order Cycles. These cycles are similar to the

mesothems of Ramsbottom (1979) and 1 to 10
million years in duration. They were probably
produced by ridge changes and/or continental ice
growth and decay (see Fig. 17.18). They are
especially recognizable in the epochs of the Tertiary
Fourth-Order Cycles. The fourth-order cycles have a
duration of 0.1 to 1.0 million years and are easily
recognized during the Quaternary and Pennsylvanian
periods (Fig. 17.18). Related to the cyclothems of
Wanless and Weller (1932), they were formed by
rapid fluctuations in sea level during glacial advance
and retreat, and during the growth and abandonment
of deltas. They are now called Milankovitch cycles
because their periodicity is affected by variations in
the earth's orbital geometry and axis.
Note: Because cycles that have global eustatic
controls have time significance, Ager (1981) called
such correlation event stratigraphy. (See p. 351-352
in the textbook.)


Figure 17.17. First- and second-order cycles during the Phanerozoic (from Vail et al., 1977).

Figure 17.18. Cenozoic time scale, showing third-and fourth-order cycles (from Haq et al., 1987).

Systems Tracts. A complete cycle has three
components: lowstand systems tract (LST) or
shelf margin systems tract (SMST), transgressive
systems tract (TST) and highstand systems tract
(HST) (see handout). According to Van
Waggoner et al. (1988, 1991), the cycle starts with
a fall in sea level, LST, during which incised
valleys are formed on the continental shelf, and
fluvial deposits prograde onto the shelf edge. If
there is no significant drop in relative sea level,
SMST stage is formed instead of LST.
When sea level starts to rise, TST stage
begins and marine deposits are laid down.
Eventually, a highstand is reached (HST) during
which deltas can form and result in the deposition
of floodplain and shallow marine sediments. The
erosional base of the cycle is called a sequence
boundary, and it could be a type 1 (with LST) of a
type 2 (with SMST). Smaller subdivisions are
called parasequences and parasequence sets.
Important points:

VIDEO on Seismic Stratigraphy

(46 minutes)
(1) Seismic reflections vs. lithofacies.
(2) Definitions of reflection patterns (shown in
Fig. 17.15 of class notes: toplap, downlap, onlap,
truncation, etc.).
(3) Variables that affect sequence stratigraphy.
(4) Systems tracts: Take notes on the following:
The explanations given for the role of accommodation
potential and changes in sea level in the depositional
patterns in the LST, TST, and HST.
Types of sediments deposited in each systems tract, and
their seismic reflection patterns.
The recognition of the two types of sequence
Lithofacies of the systems tract in the Guadalupe
Mountains (Delaware/Permian Basin), which is the
basis of the video.




Magnetic polarity stratigraphy or magnetostratigraphy deals primarily with surface outcrops. It must be
used with other geochronologic method to achieve a
high precision.

In the absence of radiometric dates, markers can

be delineated by their widespread and distinctive
nature. Such events are usually of a few years'
duration and are considered instantaneous with
respect to geologic time. Examples of
geologically instantaneous deposits include:


(1) Diagenetically altered volcanic ash layers,

called bentonites. Their use is called
tephostratigraphy or tephochronology.

Most rocks contain naturally occurring magnetic

minerals, such as magnetite and hematite. In cooling
igneous rocks these minerals only lock into a
permanent magnetic remnants when they cool to a
temperature called Curie point (650C and 578C
for hematite and magnetite respectively). The Curie
point is a critical point for magnetization to take
place. There are three types of remanent

(2) Turbidites.

(1) Thermal remanent magnetization (TRM):

(3) Debris flows.

(4) Tektites, which are formed by the impact of

(2) Detrital remanent magnetization (DRM):

(3) Chemical remanent magnetization (CRM):

This belief led to the development of the

magnetic polarity time scale (Fig. 17.19). The
application of this time scale is based on two
major findings, namely:

Sampling, Measurement, and Analysis

Usually, the sample is drilled with respect to the
true north and then taken to the laboratory for
measurement with a magnetometer (a devise
that measures both the intensity and the direction
of the magnetic vector of a sample). Samples that
are strongly magnetized can be measured with a
spinner magnetometer. However, most samples
are too weakly magnetized or too poorly
cemented together to be measured by a spinner
magnetometer. Such specimens are measured
with a cryogenic magnetometer.
When a sample is first measured in the
laboratory, all the magnetization it has acquired
since it was first formed is still present. This
initial magnetization is called the natural
remanent magnetization (NRM). Often, the
primary magnetization of the sample is
overprinted by a younger magnetization direction
that was picked up from the earth's present
magnetic field (Prothero and Schwab, 2014). To
get rid of the younger overprinting, each sample
must be partially demagnetized, or "cleaned,"
until only the primary component remains.
Demagnetization can be done in two ways, and
sometimes both are used on the same sample:
alternating field demagnetization and thermal
demagnetization. Demagnetization can be a
complicated, tedious procedure, which sometimes leads to erroneous results.
Field Reversals and the Polarity Time Scale
The results of all this sampling, cleaning, and
measurement is a series of rock samples that
show the direction and approximate intensity of
the earth's magnetic field at the time they were
lithified. In 1906, the French physicist Bernard
Brunhes was the first person to note reversed
polarity in some volcanic rocks (180 from the
normal direction). This observation was not
followed up until the early 1960s when groups of
researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and
Australian National University began to study
systematically. It is now believed that rocks of
the same age have the same magnetic polarity.


During periods of mixed or rapidly changing

polarities, such as the Latest Cretaceous and
Cenozoic (Fig. 17.19), data are much more suitable
for magnetostratigraphy. In summary, magnetostratigra-phy is based on the recognition of a pattern
of fluctuations between two stable states: normal and
reversed polarities. Limitations include:



Magnetostratigraphy has been incorporated into the

new North American Stratigraphic Code. In the early
days of magnetic stratigraphy, polarity events were
called epochs and were named after great scientists
associated with magnetisms (Brunhes, Matuyama,
Gauss, etc.), while shorter changes in polarity within
the epochs were called events and were named after
the place they were found (e.g., Olduvai Gorge of
Tanzania, and Jaramillo Creek in New Mexico).
Events were called magnetic polarity chrons to
prevent confusion with the epochs of geochronology.
In the new stratigraphic code, chrons can be
subdivided into subchrons or lumped into superchrons.
Like other formal stratigraphy units, the magnetic
polarity units require a type section and adhere to the
other recommended procedures of formal designation
and publication.


Figure 17.19. The large scale pattern of the earth's polarity history, (A) Time scale according
to Cox (1982). Mixed polarity predominates except during the long Cretaceous normal and
the Permo-Carboniferous reversed episodes. The pre-Carboniferous polarity was poorly
known at the time. (B) Time scale according to Molostovsky et al. (1976), based on data
from the Siberian Platform. This time scale goes back to the Cambrian, though the relative
lengths of zones and the dating are not as well constrained as for the Mesozoic-Cenozoic
time scale (taken from Prothero and Schwab, 2014).

Some stable isotopes (those which do not decay
with time) can become more or less abundant
with respect to others during oceanographic and
climatic changes. These isotopes exist in welldefined ratios in the ocean and atmosphere as a
result of fractionation by their differences in
atomic weight, and it is now used for
stratigraphic interpretation. Stable isotope
stratigraphy is not independent but needs another
time control, such as biostratigraphy, in order to
be efficient. All the methods in current use carry
out measurements on exclusively marine

Oxygen Isotopes.
The common isotopes of
oxygen are 16O (which accounts for 99.756%)
and 18O (which is heavier, and is usually present
in the ocean). On examining foraminifera in 1947,
Harold Urey and Cesare Emiliani found out that
oxygen isotopic ratio (d18O/16O) fluctuated with
changes in temperatures caused by ice ages.
Further studies (e.g., Urey, 1951) have revealed
that fluctuations in oxygen isotopic ratio are due
to both temperature and ice volume effects. Figure
17.20 illustrates oxygen fractionation during
glacial-interglacial cycles, and how the seawater
becomes enriched in 18O during glacial intervals.
Oxygen isotopes are measured with respect to an
arbitrary laboratory standard called PDB (= Pee
Dee Belemnite), since calcite from belemnite is

used to calibrate the mass spectrometer. The ratio
is calculated using the following equation:

Figure 17.20. Oxygen isotope fractionation during

glacial-interglacial cycles. A, Water carrying the lighter
isotope 16O is preferentially evaporated to form clouds.
As the clouds move landward and rain out, they become
even further depleted in 18O. During interglacials,
however, this 18O-poor water returns to the sea, and
there is no net change. B, During glacials, the 18Odepleted water is trapped in the ice caps, which have
18O/16O ratios of -30. The ocean, as a consequence,
is relatively enriched in 18O (+1.6) (from Matthews,

[(18O/16O) sample - (18O/16O) standard]

18O = --------------------------------------------- x 100
(18O/16O) standard
Positive 18O values are enriched in 18O
indicating increased ice volume and cooling;
negative 18O values are enriched in 16O
indicating decreased ice volume and warming. A
series of samples is needed to match a pattern to
the global oxygen isotope record. Biostratigraphic
control is needed to determine which part of the
total pattern is being matched. Like magnetic
stratigraphy, isotope stratigraphy is not
independent but depends on another method of

determining time. Unlike magnetic stratigraphy,

however, oxygen isotope stratigraphy is dependent on
lithology since marine shells are used.
Carbon Isotopes The two stable isotopes of carbon
are 12C (which accounts for 98.89%) and 13C
(1.11%). These carbon isotopes circulate through the
ocean and are incorporated into the calcite of
organisms shells and tests. 13C is measured in the
same way as 18O. However, the carbon system is
not controlled by ice volume and temperature, but by
oceanic circulation. Organic materials tend to be low
in 13C, so when they decay, they release not only
excess 12C but less 13C; therefore, 13C decreases in
water, and deep oceans are depleted in 13C. As
changes in oceanic circulation cause exchange
between bottom and surface waters, the former
release their 12C, which drives 13C more negative.
This whole process is a reflection of
oceanographic and climatic changes, which are good
time markers because they are instantaneous and
occur on a global scale. Carbon isotopes are
dependent on the nature of marine organisms, and
need another time control (e.g., biostratigraphy).

Carbon isotopes are now being used to study

continental materials.
Strontium Isotopes. This relatively new technique
uses two stable isotopes of strontium: the more
common 86Sr and the less common 87Sr. The normal
ratio of 87Sr/86Sr in modern oceans is approximately
0.7090, but this ratio fluctuates as more 87Sr is
produced by the radioactive decay of 87Rubidium.
This process has produced an almost linear increase
since the Jurassic. Recent work has shown that the
rate of change is continuous and linear since the Late
Eocene (Fig. 17.35, p. 414 in the textbook). Its use is
also limited to normal marine organisms, with the
measurement of the 87Sr/86Sr ratio of calcite in
marine organisms. It can be used to date single
samples, unlike other stable isotopes methods.




Materials and rocks used


Zircon, uranite, sphene, apatite,

pyrochlore, monazite, pitchblende,
allanite, U or Th minerals
(mainly intrusive igneous rocks)


Galena, K-feldspar, tellurides,

carbonates in carbonatites
(mainly intrusive igneous rocks)

Fission track

Zircon, sphene, apatite, garnet,

epidote, muscovite, volcanic glass
(mainly volcanic igneous rocks)


Muscovite, biotite, hornblende,

feldspars, glauconite, whole rock
volcanics, some glasses
(intrusive and volcanic igneous
rocks, come metamorphic and
sedimentary rocks)


Muscovite, biotite, K-feldspar.

(same rocks as for K/Ar)


Muscovite, biotite, K-feldspar,

glauconite, apatite, sphene
(metamorphic, igneous and
some sedimentary rocks)


Organic materials, such as charcoal,

wood, cloth, paper, twigs, peat,
ivory, bones, shells, and pottery
(sedimentary rocks only)

Radioactive Decay
Radioactive decay is used for measuring the
absolute or numerical ages of rocks and events.
Called radiometric dating, it was pioneered early
in the 20th century. Its use depends on the
observation that the rate of decay of radioactive
elements is constant. It may involve the loss of
protons and/ or neutrons. There are three types of
decay, all of which take place entirely within the
(1) Alpha decay: Loss of protons and neutrons.
238U 234Th + 4He (a-particle)
(2) Beta decay: Increase in atomic number by 1,
from uncharged neutron emitted by the parent
atom changing into a positively-charged proton.
40K 40Ca + e- (b-particle)
(3) Capture of beta particle: Electron capture turns
proton into a neutron, thereby reducing the atomic
number by 1.
40K + e- 40Ar + g-particle
Another kind of emmision in the radioactive
decay process is called gamma radiation. It
consists of a form of invisible electomagnetic
waves having even shorter wavelengths than Xrays. The underlying basic principle is that a
radioactive "parent" element decays into a stable
"daughter" element at a constant rate. Therefore,
the rate of decay or lambda (l) is given as the
fraction of the initial number of parent element
atoms. which decay in unit time (per year). The
half-life period (T) is the time necessary for onehalf of the number of parent element atoms to
decay. The relationship between T and l is:
T = 0.693/l
The decay of the parent to daughter may take
place in one step or in a series of steps, and T and
l should be accurately known for precise dating.
In general, the most reliable rates are derived from
igneous rocks because the moment of
crystallization of a mineral yields a sharp starting
point. For metamorphic rocks, the minerals yield a
date for the last metamorphic event. Table 18.1
lists some of the radiometric dating techniques
and the minerals that are used.

Table 18.1. Common materials used for geochronology

Dating Techniques
Uranium/Thorium/Lead. This is the oldest technique
in use. It is also the most reliable for dating igneous
rocks because of the abundance of uranium in some
rocks. Two isotopes of uranium can be used, and lead
can be derived from thorium as follows:
238U 206Pb + 8He (a-particle)
235U 207Pb + 7He
232Th 208Pb + 6He
These decay patterns normally yield erratic results. All
three can be used on concordia plots for cross
checking. The half-life values for them respectively
are 4,498 m.y., 713 m.y. and 13,900 m.y.

approximately six times as fast as 206Pb, an age can
be obtained if the material used was free initially
from the two isotopes. Based on the assumption that
206Pb and 207Pb are always radiogenic, it is possible
to obtain an estimate of the earth's age since the crust
crystallized. This is done by comparing the isotopic
ratios of lead ores of differing geological ages.

Fission-Track Dating. This dating technique deals

with "tracks" left behind by the spontaneous
radioactive fission of 238U. The number of tracks is a
function of the original amount of radioactive parent,
and the age of the material can be derived from
counting the tracks. Minerals used:
The method has several requirements, and usually
produces large errors. However, it has been used
effectively for young Tertiary and Quaternary
volcanics, and for determining the provenance of
Potassium/Argon. This is the most commonly used
method of radiometric dating. It is based on the fact
that 11% 40K yields 40Ar, the remaining 89%
yielding 40Ca. These decays give off d and b
particles, respectively, and have half-life values of
11,850 m.y. and 1,470 m.y. Because of the presence
of two constants, the standard equation for age
determination is very complex. The method yields
very good results since 40Ar is formed only by
radioactive decay. Furthermore, potassium is very
abundant in rocks.
The main problems associated with the
techniques are the possibility of leaking 40Ar because
of its inert nature, and the fact that 40Ar from the
atmosphere can contaminate samples. For K/Ar
method to be reliable, certain criteria must be met:

years. By irradiating a standard known age along

with the sample, and using stable 40Ar to correct for
atmospheric and other interferences, an age can be
calculated once the conversion rate of 39K to 39Ar is
known. The age can be obtained either by slowly
heating a crystal and measuring its argon, or by
melting the crystal by laser fusion. The advantages of
this method include the following:
Its main limitation is that the system can absorb
atmospheric argon.
Rubidium/Strontium. The b-decay of 87Rb to 87Sr
takes place in one single step, with a half-life of
approximately 50,000 m.y. This technique is more
suitable for dating Precambrian rocks. Since neither
element is common, contamination and/or loss from
the system are usually unlikely. The age formula has
a correction factor built in to correct for inherited
rubidium in the rock. It is very unreliable in younger
rocks because a large error margin is usually
recorded since there is not enough radiogenic
strontium in the samples. The method is useful in
dating both igneous and metamorphic rocks.
Carbon-14 Dating.
This dating technique was
commonly used in archaeology during its early days of
development in the 1940s. The decay process is shown
as follows:
14N+neutron (g-decay) 14C+H, decays to 14N+b

The decay process has a half-life of 5,730 years, which

makes it useful for dating recent materials. Certain
assumptions are made, including (a) the rate of 14C
production in the upper atmosphere is constant; and
(b) the rate of assimilation of 14C by organisms is
rapid, relative to its rate of decay. Both assumptions
appear to be valid.
This procedure is very different from other
dating methods, and is measured with a Geiger
counter instead of a mass spectrometer. The main
limitation in geological work is its short half-life, and
the fact that it is not reliable for marine shells. Why?

Micas, hornblende, potassium feldspar and glauconite

can be used for measurement.
Argon/Argon. In recent years, the ratio of 40Ar/39Ar
has been used for dating rocks. The method involves
the bombardment of neutrons in a nuclear reactor to
convert 39K to 39Ar. 39Ar is very unstable, decays
back to 39K (b decay), and the argon can be extracted
from the sample after irradiation. The half-life is 269

It is very good for dating wood, peat, coal, bones,

cloth, paper and shells, all of which were once living
materials. This is why it can only be used to date
sedimentary rocks. Recently, 14C dating has been
proving useful in dating the Pleistocene ice age



Local Scale: Plio-Pleistocene of East Africa

correlation of biostratigraphy, geochronology,
magnetostratigraphy and other dating techniques
(Fig. 18.2). It is called time-rock stratigraphy
because it establishes time relationships among
geologic units. Often times, two data sources may
not agree or tie in, and discrepancies can occur in
data collection, as in radiometric dating.
Chronostratigraphic methods fall into two

Setting. Olduvai Gorge (northern Tanzania) around

Lake Turkana (northern Kenya), Omo River drainage
(southern Ethiopia), and Afar Triangle (Eritrea,
Ethiopia and Djibouti). This region is important for
hominid fossils, being the home of our oldest hominid
relative, Ardipithecus ramidus (4.3-4.5 million years
old). One of the most famous specimens from the
region is a nearly complete skeleton of a female
nicknamed "Lucy," which belongs to Australopithecus
afarensis More recent findings of bones in the Sahara
Desert, though contentious, indicate an age of 6.0-7.0
million years for Sahelanthropus, an intermediate
between apes and true hominids.

(1) Unidirectional: Biostratigraphy and radiometric

2) Cyclical: Magnetostratigraphy, lithostratigraphy,
sequence stratigraphy, stable isotopes (except
strontium isotopes which are unidirectional).

There is a very reliable biostratigraphic
control, but it is not correlatable with other continents.
Tephochronology has improved correlation within the
Turkana Basin. However, it is not useful outside areas
of volcanic ash falls. Magnetostratigraphy gives the
finest resolution of time and best correlation with
other parts of the world. It is defined within a
framework of biostratigraphy and radiometric dates.
Continental Scale: Western Interior Cretaceous of
North America
Setting. This region extends from the Gulf of Mexico
to the Arctic Ocean, through Texas, New Mexico,
Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska,
Montana, Saskatechewan, etc. The region extended
north to south for about 5,000 km during the
maximum transgression.
The shallow marine
sediments include pelagic shales, chalk, limestone and
sandstone. Some nonmarine sediments that were
deposited during regression are coal, shale and
sandstone. The Zuni transgression was responsible for
much of the deposition during the Late Cretaceous.

Figure 18.2. Flow chart of the procedures of stratigraphy

and their relationships, with chronostratigraphy at the
central repository (after Dineley, 1984).

Two things, namely precision and resolution, are

important in chronostratigraphic interpretations.
Precision is the inherent error of a system, which
indicates how repeatable measurements are, while
resolution is the ability of a system to discriminate
between two closely spaced events in geologic time.
For example, reworking, poor preservation, etc.
limit biostratigraphic precision, whereas resolution
is limited by the rate of evolution. The following
discussions from Prothero (1990, Chapter 13, page
300-317) show how chronostratigraphy is used on
local, continental and global scales. Prothero and
Schwab (2014) also discuss the global
Eocene/Oligocene boundary on pages 445-452.

Dating. There is an excellent biostratigraphic control

by ammonites, bivalves, gastropods and benthic
foraminifera. A good correlation also exists between
bentonite beds and limestone-shale cycles. There is,
however, limited use of magnetostratigraphy in the
Late Cretaceous because there were no reversals, and
geochronology is not as good as other methods.
Geochemical correlation, using 13C, 18O and
organic carbon levels, is now being attempted. The
western interior seaway is an exceptional example of
integrated correlation, which can be traced for
thousands of kilometers across central North
America. The sediments span about 40 million years.
Global Scale: Eocene/Oligocene boundary
When Charles Lyell named most of the Tertiary
epochs in the 19th century, he did not recognize the

Oligocene, which was later named by von Beyrich.
Lyell did not recognize the Oligocene because (a) his
type areas were local and time-transgressive, thus
making correlation difficult; and (b) most of the
faunas were endemic, shallow marine molluscs, such
as oysters. These limitations have now been overcome
by DSDP and ODP legs, which have dredged very
thick sequences of rocks. The occurrence of
planktonic foraminifera, calcareous nannoplankton,
diatoms and radiolarians within these sequences
permits global correlation.

The absolute dates for the Eocene/Oligocene

boundary have been obtained mainly from
glauconite, which could be unreliable for older rocks
(but fine for younger sequences), and there is a good
control with magnetostratigraphy. This is because
rapid sea floor spreading and cooling recorded
numerous magnetic reversals. Several workers have
dated this boundary, resulting in an age ranging from
32 m.y. to 36 m.y. and there are no agreements with
microfossil zonation. Recently, Ar/Ar dating of
volcanic ash yielded 33.5-34.0 m.y., and this is closer
to the biostratigraphic zonation boundary.


Basin analysis is simply the application of
stratigraphy and sedimentology to analysis of the
geologic history of a basin. It also includes aspects
paleogeography. The following are the general
approaches used toward achieving this goal.
Sediment Body Architecture
As a first step, all the sedimentological and
structural characteristics of the rock (e.g.,
lithologies, their thicknesses and relationship to
one another) are considered. This entails the use of
cross sections, and stratigraphic maps such as
facies, isopach and isolith. The recognition of the
sand body architecture is usually a first step toward
establishing a depositional system. Sediment body
anastomosing, linear, and tabular, among others.
Provenance involves using petrographic data to
reconstruct the origin of sediments. The following
sets of data are particularly useful:
Heavy Minerals. Heavy minerals are generally
used for reconstructing provenance because every
assemblage is diagnostic of the source area.


Paleocurrent Analysis. Sedimentary structures, such

as cross beds and ripple marks, are used for
interpreting the direction of current transport. Such
results are normally represented as Rose Diagrams.
Because paleocurrent directions can vary in different
environments, hundreds of measurements are usually
required for analysis.
Interpretation of Depositional Environments
Depositional environments can be reconstructed from
physical, chemical and biological parameters. Physical
criteria include lithologies and their sedimentary
structures. The geochemical data used include those
derived from stable isotope studies, fluid inclusion
studies and clay mineralogy. Fossil faunas and floras
constitute the biological parameters. Data can be
derived from vertebrate bones, macroscopic shells of
invertebrates, as well as microscopic fossils. The
nature of the fossil assemblage is important for
taphonomic interpretation, whether they are in situ (in
their life position) or have been transported
(fragmented). By integrating sediment body
architecture, provenance and environmental data, it is
often possible to develop a depositional model within
any basin under consideration.

Data Gathering in the Field
Accurate measurement and precise description of
field data are important in establishing spatial
relationship of rocks over geographic areas. Such
data may be from outcrops or from the subsurface,
with the latter being obtained by drilling and remote
geophysical methods, such as seismography.
Important field characteristics, which should be
recorded in words, sketches and photographs,
(1) General lithologic characters, sequences and
relationships of lithologies, e.g., types of contacts.
(2) Coloration: Note whether rock is wet or dry.

Textural Characteristics. Assumptions:

(3) Bedding characteristics, bedding scale, presence

or absence of concretions.


(4) Textural features:


(5) Weathering characteristics:

(6) Fossils: Make accurate identification:

Fence Diagram. Three-dimensional cross section

on an isometric base map (Fig. 19.2).

(7) Measure the thicknesses of the lithologies and

stratigraphic units, using a Jacob's staff, measuring
tape, etc.
(8) Measure structural features:
(9) Take sizable samples of rock units to the
laboratory for back up analysis.
Data Interpretation
The information derived from field and laboratory
studies can be synthesized and represented in
graphic form. Examples are given below:
Stratigraphic Cross Section. Two-dimensional
representation of a series of stratigraphic sections.
Unlike a geological cross section, it contains no
topographic information. It however gives one a
clear idea about the geologic history of an area
(Figs. 19.1 and 19.2).

Figure 19.2. Schematic illustration of a fence diagram (from

Boggs, 2012).

Structure Contour Map. A stratigraphic map used to

underground rock bed. It usually requires contouring
between many data points on a map base, and shows
positions of folds and faults (Fig. 19.3).


Figure 19.1. A hypothetical stratigraphic cross section.

Figure 19.3. Top. Structure contour map, showing the

relation of structure contours to outcrop patterns. Bottom.
The projection of the contours on the Morrill Limestone
beyond its outcrop edge through the use of lower marker
beds and known intervals between them (from Krumbein
and Sloss, 1963).

Figure 19.2. Schematic illustration of the Jacobs-staff

technique for measuring stratigraphic units (from Bogg,

Isopach Map. Contours of points of equal thickness of

a rock unit (Fig. 19.4). Where it dips, the apparent
thickness is shown by an isochore map (Fig. 19.5).


Figure 19.4. Isopach contours of sediments in the Rocky

Mountain foreland basin of Alberta, Saskatchewan and
Montana, with thicknesses increasing southwestward
(from Porter et al., 1982).

Both isopach and isochore maps are usually

constructed from well data. They can be used to
locate boundaries between thick basin deposits and
thin shelf deposits.

Figure 19.5. The difference between isopach and isochore.

Figure 19.6. Two examples of facies maps of barrier-bar

and bay-lagoon systems in the Wilcox Group (Eocene) of
the Texas Gulf Coastal Plain. A, Sandstone/shale ration
map. B, Sand isolith map (isolith interval = 30 meters)
showing thicknesses of sands through the unit (from Lofton
and Adams, 1971).

Facies map. Aerial variation of some aspect of a

stratigraphic unit. There are different types of
facies maps. For example:
Lithofacies Map:
lithologic aspects.





Biofacies Map: A map that shows variations in

faunal aspects.
Ratio Map: This shows more than one component
(e.g., sand/shale ratio), thereby giving one an idea
of where various environments are found (Fig.
Isolith Map: Isopach map of a single rock
component in a unit (Fig. 19.6B).
Triangle Facies Map: Shows the ratios of three
components (Fig. 19.7).

Figure 19.7. Triangle facies map of the Cretaceous Trinity

Group. Relative percentages of the three components (sand,
shale and nonclastics) are shown by the different patterns,
as explained in the three-component triangle (from
Krumbein and Sloss, 1963).

Paleogeographic Map Shows the distribution of
ancient environments at a given point in geologic
history (Miall, 1984; Fig. 19.8). It is usually
derived from lithofacies distribution and other
inferences. Block diagrams are very useful devices
for summarizing paleogeographic interpretations
(Fig. 19.9).

Figure 19.8. Paleogeographic map for Somerset Island

and eastern Prince of Wales Island during the earliest
Devonian, showing the detrital apron flanking Boothia
Uplift (from Miall and Gibling, 1978).

Paleogeologic Map. Also called a subcrop map, it

shows the units outcropping at an unconformity
surface. It can only be reconstructed from
extensive outcrop or subsurface data, and may
reveal the extent of tectonic deformation and
erosion that occurred before the deposition of postunconformity strata. The distribution of units
which onlap an unconformity results in a supercrop
or worm's eye map. The main use of paleogeologic
maps is in illustrating the pattern of basin fill,
shifting shorelines or gradual burial of a preexisting erosional topography.

Figure 19.9. Use of sequential block diagrams to indicate

evolution of depositional environments through time,
Umkondo Group (about 1800 Ma), southeast Zimbabwe
(from Tankard et al., 1982).

Accumulation of sedimentary sequences is
controlled mainly by tectonics, and in the last three
decades, the plate tectonic model has been used to
interpret sedimentary sequences. Accumulation
occurs in the stable interiors of continents
(cratons), and the margins of continents
(geosynclines). The term geosyncline was introduced by James Dana in 1873.
Cratonic Sedimentation
The center of a continent is composed of the
Precambrian shield or dome, and sediments are
added by lateral accretion, especially on the sides
of the dome (Fig. 19.10). As a result, sediments are
thinner toward the dome, and they are mainly
composed of shallow marine sandstones,
limestones and shales, with occasional fluvial and
deltaic sequences. Such was the mode of
deposition of Sloss' sequences of North America.
Cratonic sedimentation was more common during
the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras, and the
sequences are bounded by unconformities. They
are much thinner in comparison with geosynclinal
sediments. Good examples of cratonic basins can
be found in Africa (Chad, Iullemmeden) and the
United States (Illinois, Michigan). Continental
margins have thick piles of sediment accumulation
(averaging 7 miles or 35,000 ft) in deeply
subsiding basins. The sediments are usually

Figure 19.11. Classic profile of a geosyncline, based

on the Ordovician of the Appalachians (adapted
from Kay, 1951).

(1) Miogeosynclines: Shallow

sandstone and limestone deposits.



(2) Eugeosynclines: Deep marine shales, sandstones

(turbidites), volcanic rocks and cherts. Hall (1859)
attributed the formation of geosynclines to
subsidence caused by the weight of accumulated
sediments. Dana (1873) attributed their formation to
subsidence and subsequent deformation due to lateral
compression, and not sediment loading.
Geosynclines are associated with mountain
building (orogeny), and European workers were the
first to recognize this. They interpreted alpine
sediments (Alps Mountains) as being of geosynclinal
origin. They recognized the following facies:
1) Flysch:

2) Molasse:
Figure 19.10. Idealized section of a dome and basin in the
craton, showing thinning of all units away from the basin
and toward the dome. This results partly from deposition
of a greater thickness of each unit in the basin and partly
from truncation and overlap along unconformities (from
Prothero and Schwab, 2014).

Geosynclines can be subdivided into two parts
(Fig. 19.11):

Plate Tectonics
The similarity between the boundaries of continents
was first noted as far back as 1620 by Sir Charles
Bacon. Then in 1912, Alfred Wegener (a German
meteorologist) published his idea that continents have
drifted apart since their formation. This concept of
continental drift remained controversial until the
1960s when its application to tectonic studies was

What were the earliest evidences for continental drift?

Convergent Margins
Convergent margins can result from three situations:

By 1970, it became clear that (a) the crust was and
is still being formed at spreading centers (ridges)
and (b) continents are consumed at sites of
collision called subduction zones. The model of
plate tectonic became much clearer once it was
recognized that crustal plates had a core of silica
continental crust and a thinner but denser fringe of
basaltic oceanic crust. Three types of plate margins
have been recognized:
Divergent Margins
Divergent margins occur in the following settings:
1) Oceanic: Spreading centers where oceanic
rifting occurs, e.g., mid-oceanic ridges. Nothing
happens sedimentologically in the spreading
center, but some deposition occurs at the
continental edge (i.e., at the passive margin basin).
An example is the Baltimore Canyon Trough in the

1) Ocean-ocean collision: Subduction occurs when

one of the oceanic crusts dives under the other. Island
arcs form on the overriding plate. There are no
granites but basalts or pillow lavas, oozes, turbidites,
graywackes and shales are commonly deposited in
deep sea trenches.
2) Ocean-continent collision: The oceanic crust dives
under the continental crust at the edge of the
continent, forming a subduction zone, such as occurs
along the west coast of South America. This type of
collision results in mountain building (e.g., Andes
Mountains), and deep-sea trenches are common.
3) Continent-continent collision: When two
continents collide, high mountains are formed. For
example, the collision between the Indian and
Eurasian plates produced the Himalayas Mountains
on the one hand, while the Alps were formed as a
result of the Eurasia colliding with Africa. Collision
boundaries like this are always active. Sketch below:

2) Spreading center under a continent: The crust

breaks as a result of uplift and extension, forming
rift valleys. Block faulting creates horsts and
grabens in which redbeds and alluvial fan deposits
are laid down. Such rifts arise at isolated points to
form triple junctions, which are very common
around the Atlantic; e.g., Benue Trough, Nigeria.
An aulacogen forms when one of the three rifts
fails and stops spreading. This depression
eventually becomes oceanic and fills up with
sediment. Sketch below.
Transform Margins
This is common among minor plates, where two plates
slide past one another. The dominant motion is neither
compressional nor extensional but strike-slip (i.e., the
primary motion is parallel to the fault trace); e.g. San
Andreas Fault, California. Because of irregularities in
sliding there are usually local compressions and
extensions that form pull-apart basins. The pull-apart
tectonics result in sausage-like strings of deposition
Transform faults terminate either at a spreading
ridge or at a subduction zone. They can occur on the


continent (as in San Andreas) or in the ocean. The

most important sedimentary features include:
(a) extreme lateral facies changes,
(b) very great thicknesses of rapidly deposited
sediment, and
(c) abundant sediment supply from multiple sources.
Tectonics and Sandstone Petrology
Ancient plate configurations can be inferred from
the types of sediments preserved. The overall
geometry and lithology of a stratigraphic sequence
are the most diagnostic features. Rock associations,
such as melanges and ophiolites are diagnostic of
their tectonic settings (subduction zones).
However, in a few instances, a single mineral, such
as glaucophane, is diagnostic of a particular
tectonic regime, namely blueschist metamorphism
and a subduction zone.
In recent years, triangle plots with distinct end
members have been used for interpreting
sandstones. The end members used are QFL
(quartz, feldspar, lithic fragments) and QmFLt
(monocrystalline quartz, feldspar, polycrystalline
lithic fragments, including polycrystalline quartz).
Cratonic interior sandstones are usually very
mature, pure monocrystalline quartz, so they plot
close to the Q or Qm pole. Basement uplifts are
rich in arkosic sandstones that plot close to the F
pole (Dickinson et al., 1983). Climate can also
influence sandstone composition, as shown in
Figure 19.12.

Figure 19.12. First-cycle sand from a modern river with

known sources is plotted on a QFL diagram. Metamorphic
and plutonic sources gave very different clusters on the
plot, depending on whether they came from a humid region
with active chemical weathering, or an arid region with
limited chemical weathering and breakdown of feldspars
and lithic fragments (from Suttner et al, 1981).

Metamorphic source terrains in humid climates

produce weathered quartz-rich sandstones while
plutonic igneous source humid terrains produce
feldspar-rich sandstones. Arid climates preserve lithic
fragments from metamorphic terrains, and lithics and
feldspars from plutonic terrains. This method is not
fool proof, and it should be used with other data.


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