Carbonate Petrography

Carbonate petrography is the study of limestones, dolomites and associated deposits under optical or electron microscopes greatly enhances field studies or core observations and can provide a frame of reference for geochemical studies.

25 strangest Geologic Formations on Earth

The strangest formations on Earth.

What causes Earthquake?

Of these various reasons, faulting related to plate movements is by far the most significant. In other words, most earthquakes are due to slip on faults.

The Geologic Column

As stated earlier, no one locality on Earth provides a complete record of our planet’s history, because stratigraphic columns can contain unconformities. But by correlating rocks from locality to locality at millions of places around the world, geologists have pieced together a composite stratigraphic column, called the geologic column, that represents the entirety of Earth history.

Folds and Foliations

Geometry of Folds Imagine a carpet lying flat on the floor. Push on one end of the carpet, and it will wrinkle or contort into a series of wavelike curves. Stresses developed during mountain building can similarly warp or bend bedding and foliation (or other planar features) in rock. The result a curve in the shape of a rock layer is called a fold.

Showing posts with label Ocean floor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ocean floor. Show all posts

The Messinian Salinity Crisis

You will have heard of The Messinian Salinity Crisis no doubt. From learned articles, geology textbooks, probably lectures at your college or University. Or possibly not. This was not always the hot topic it is now. In fact, the very idea of this happening, was for a while, challenged, even ridiculed. It seemed too incredible that this could happen as it did and Dessication/Flood theories took time to gain traction. But, if you had heard about it, you would remember that The Messinian Salinity Crisis, was a time when the Mediterranean Sea, very much as we know it today, evaporated – dried out, almost completely.

You will have heard of the rates of desiccation, influx and yet more desiccation, repeated in endless cycles over tens, even hundreds of thousands of years. On a human temporal scale, this would have been a long drawn out affair, covering a time hundreds of generations deep, more than the span of Homo sapiens existence. In Geologic terms however, it was a string of sudden events. Of incredibly hot and arid periods followed by rapid ingress of waters, either via spillways through what is now modern day Morocco and the southern Iberian peninsular, or headlong through a breach in the sill between the Pillars of Heracles, the modern day Straights of Gibraltar.

There were prolonged periods of dessication, of desolate landscapes beyond anything seen today in Death Valley or The Afar Triangle. These landscapes were repeatedly transgressed by brackish waters from storm seasons far into the African and Eurasian interiors, or the Atlantic, and these in turn dried out. Again and again this happened. It had to be so because the vast deposits of rock salt, gypsum and anhydrites could not have been emplaced in a single evaporite event. The salt deposits in and around the Mediteranean today represent fifty times the current capacity of this great inland sea. You may have heard too of the variety of salts production, as agglomerating crystals fell from the descending surface to the sea floor, or as vast interconnected hypersaline lakes left crystalline residues at their diminishing margins, as forsaken remnant sabkhas, cut off from the larger basins, left behind acrid dry muds of potassium carbonates – the final arid mineral residue of the vanished waters.

Just under six million years ago, Geologic processes isolated what was left of the ancient Tethys ocean, the sea we know as the Mediterranean, home to historic human conflicts and marine crusades of Carthage, Rome, Athens and Alexandria, a Sea fringed by modern day Benidorm, Cyprus, Malta and Monaco. At a time 5.96 million years ago – evaporation outpaced replenishment. Indeed, just as it does today, but without the connecting seaway to replenish losses. Inexorable tectonic activity first diverted channels, then – sealed them. Cut off from the Atlantic in the West, water levels fell, rose briefly and fell again, and again. The mighty Nile - a very different geophysical feature of a greater capacity than today, and the rivers of Europe cut down great canyons hundreds and thousands of metres below present Eustatic sea and land surface levels, as seismic cross sections show in staggering detail. The cores taken at depth in the Mediterranean, show Aeolian sands above layers of salt, fossiliferous strata beneath those same salts, all indicating changing environments. The periods of blackened unshifting desert varnished floors and bleached playas, decades and centuries long, were punctuated often by catastrophic episodes, with eroded non conformable surfaces of winnowed desert pavement, toppled ventifracts, scours and rip up clasts. Species of fossilised terrestrial plant life, scraping an arid existence have been found, thousands of meters down, in the strata of the Mediterranean sea floor.

There is much evidence too, in the uplifted margins of Spain, France, and Sicily, of those hostile millennia when the sea disappeared. Incontrovertible evidence, painstakingly gathered, analysed and peer reviewed, demonstrates via the resources of statistical analysis, calculus and geophysical data that the Messinian Salinity Crisis was a period during the Miocene wherein the geology records a uniquely arid period of repeated partial and very nearly complete desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea over a period of approximately 630,000 years. But for the Geologist, the story doesn’t end there. The Geologists panoptic, all seeing third eye, sees incredible vistas and vast panoramas. Of a descent from the Alpine Foreland to the modern day enclave of Monaco, gazing out southwards from a barren, uninhabited and abandoned raised coast to deep dry abyssal plains, punctuated by exposed chasms, seamounts and ridges, swirling and shifting so slowly in a distant heat haze. A heat haze produced by temperatures far above any recorded by modern man and his preoccupation with Global Warming. An unimaginable heat sink would produce temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Celsius at 4000M depth within the basins. 

Looking down upon this Venusian landscape, the sun might glint on remaining lakes and salt flats so very far away and so very much farther below. Hills and valleys, once submerged, would be observed high and dry – from above, as would the interconnecting rivers of bitter waters hot enough to slowly broil any organism larger than extremophile foraminifer. All this, constantly shimmering in the relentless heat. Only the imagination of the geologist could see the vast, hellish, yet breathtaking landscape conjured up by the data and the rock record. And finally, the Geologist would visualise a phenomenon far greater in scope and magnitude than any Biblical flood – The Zanclean Event.
Also known as The Zanclean Deluge, when the drought lasting over half a million years was finally ended as the Atlantic Ocean breached the sill/land bridge between Gibraltar and North West Africa. Slowly perhaps at first until a flow a thousand times greater than the volumetric output of the Amazon cascaded down the slopes to the parched basins. Proximal to the breach, there would be a deafening thunderous roar and the ground would tremor constantly, initially triggering great avalanches above and below the Eustatic sea level as the far reaching and continuous concussion roared and rumbled on, and on, and on. For centuries great cataracts and torrents of marine waters fell thousands of metres below and flowed thousands of kilometers across to the East. Across to the abyssal plains off the Balearics, to the deeps of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas, into the trenches south of the Greek Islands and finally up to the rising shores of The Lebanon. The newly proximal waters to the final coastal reaches and mountains that became islands, must have had a climatological effect around the margins of the rejuvenated Mediterranean. Flora and Fauna both marine and terrestrial will have recolonised quickly. Species may have developed differently, post Zanclean, on the Islands. And in such a short period, there must surely have been earthquakes and complex regional depression and emergence. Isostacy compensated for the trillions of cubic meters of transgression waters that now occupied the great basins between the African and Eurasian plates, moving the land, reactivating ancient faults and within and marginal to the great inland sea, a region long active with convergent movements of a very different mechanism.

Hollywood and Pinewood have yet to match the imagination of the Earth Scientist, of the many chapters of Earths dynamic history held as fully tangible concepts to the men and women who study the rocks and the stories they tell. The movies played out in the mind of the geologist are epic indeed and – as we rightly consider the spectre of Global Warming, consider too the fate of future populations (of whatever evolved species) at the margins of the Mediterranean and the domino regions beyond, when inexorable geologic processes again isolate that benign, sunny holiday sea. Fortunately, not in our lifetime, but that of our far off descendants who will look and hopefully behave very differently from Homo Sapiens.

Note: This blog is written and contributed by Paul Goodrich. You can also contribute your blog or article on our website. See guidelines here.

Banded-iron formations (BIFs) - Evidence of Oxygen in Early Atmosphere

Our knowledge about the rise of oxygen gas in Earth’s atmosphere comes from multiple lines of evidence in the rock record, including the age and distribution of banded iron formations, the presence of microfossils in oceanic rocks, and the isotopes of sulfur.
However, this article is just focus on Banded Iron Formation.

BIF (polished) from Hamersley Iron Formation, West Australia, Australia

Summary: Banded-iron formations (BIFs) are sedimentary mineral deposits consisting of alternating beds of iron-rich minerals (mostly hematite) and silica-rich layers (chert or quartz) formed about 3.0 to 1.8 billion years ago. Theory suggests BIFs are associated with the capture of oxygen released by photosynthetic processes by iron dissolved in ancient ocean water. Once nearly all the free iron was consumed in seawater, oxygen could gradually accumulate in the atmosphere, allowing an ozone layer to form. BIF deposits are extensive in many locations, occurring as deposits, hundreds to thousands of feet thick. During Precambrian time, BIF deposits probably extensively covered large parts of the global ocean basins. The BIFs we see today are only remnants of what were probably every extensive deposits. BIFs are the major source of the world's iron ore and are found preserved on all major continental shield regions. 

Banded-iron formation (BIF)
consists of layers of iron oxides (typically either magnetite or hematite) separated by layers of chert (silica-rich sedimentary rock). Each layer is usually narrow (millimeters to few centimeters). The rock has a distinctively banded appearance because of differently colored lighter silica- and darker iron-rich layers. In some cases BIFs may contain siderite (carbonate iron-bearing mineral) or pyrite (sulfide) in place of iron oxides and instead of chert the rock may contain carbonaceous (rich in organic matter) shale.

It is a chemogenic sedimentary rock (material is believed to be chemically precipitated on the seafloor). Because of old age BIFs generally have been metamorphosed to a various degrees (especially older types), but the rock has largely retained its original appearance because its constituent minerals are fairly stable at higher temperatures and pressures. These rocks can be described as metasedimentary chemogenic rocks.

                     Jaspilite banded iron formation (Soudan Iron-Formation, Soudan, Minnesota, USA
Image Credits: James St. John

In the 1960s, Preston Cloud, a geology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, became interested in a particular kind of rock known as a Banded Iron Formation (or BIF). They provide an important source of iron for making automobiles, and provide evidence for the lack of oxygen gas on the early Earth.

Cloud realized that the widespread occurrence of BIFs meant that
the conditions needed to form them must have been common on the ancient Earth, and not common after 1.8 billion years ago. Shale and chert often form in ocean environments today, where sediments and silica-shelled microorganisms accumulate gradually on the seafloor and eventually turn into rock. But iron is less common in younger oceanic sedimentary rocks. This is partly because there are only a few sources of iron available to the ocean: isolated volcanic vents in the deep ocean and material weathered from continental rocks and carried to sea by rivers.

Banded iron-formation (10 cm), Northern Cape, South Africa.
Specimen and photograph: A. Fraser
Most importantly, it is difficult to transport iron very far from these sources today because when iron reacts with oxygen gas, it becomes insoluble (it cannot be dissolved in water) and forms a solidparticle. Cloud understood that for large deposits of iron to exist all over the world’s oceans, the iron must have existed in a dissolved form. This way, it could be transported long distances in seawater from its sources to the locations where BIFs formed. This would be possible only if there were little or no oxygen gas in the atmosphere and ocean at the time the BIFs were being deposited. Cloud recognized that since BIFs could not form in the presence of oxygen, the end of BIF deposition probably marked the first occurrence of abundant oxygen gas on Earth (Cloud, 1968).
Cloud further reasoned that, for dissolved iron to finally precipitate and be deposited, the iron would have had to react with small amounts of oxygen near the deposits. Small amounts of oxygen could have been produced by the first photosynthetic bacteria living in the open ocean. When the dissolved iron encountered the oxygen produced by the photosynthesizing bacteria, the iron would have precipitated out of seawater in the form of minerals that make up the iron-rich layers of BIFs: hematite (Fe2O3) and magnetite (Fe3O4), according to the following reactions:
4Fe3 + 2O2 → 2Fe2O3
6Fe2 + 4O2 → 2Fe3O4
The picture that emerged from Cloud’s studies of BIFs was that small amounts of oxygen gas, produced by photosynthesis, allowed BIFs to begin forming more than 3 billion years ago. The abrupt disappearance of BIFs around 1.8 billion years ago probably marked the time when oxygen gas became too abundant to allow dissolved iron to be transported in the oceans.
Banded Iron Formation
Source is unknown

It is interesting to note that BIFs reappeared briefly in a few places around 700 millionyears ago,during a period of extreme glaciation when evidence suggests that Earth’s oceans were entirely covered with sea ice. This would have essentially prevented the oceans from interacting with the atmosphere, limiting the supply of oxygen gas in the water and again allowing dissolved iron to be transported throughout the oceans. When the sea ice melted, the presence of oxygen would have again allowed the iron to precipitate.


1. Misra, K. (1999). Understanding Mineral Deposits Springer.
Cloud, P. E. (1968). Atmospheric and hydrospheric evolution on the primitive Earth both secular accretion and biological and geochemical processes have affected Earth’s volatile envelope. Science, 160(3829), 729–736.
James,H.L. (1983). Distribution of banded iron-formation in space and time. Developments in Precambrian Geology, 6, 471–490.

Ocean waters and currents

Ocean waters and currents

Ocean waters and currents depends upon lots of things as below.

Composition and Temperature 

If you've ever had a chance to swim in the ocean, you may have noticed that you float much more easily in ocean water than you do in freshwater. That’s because ocean water contains an average of 3.5% dissolved salt; in contrast, typical freshwater contains less than 0.02% salt. The dissolved ions fit between water molecules without changing the volume of the water, so adding salt to water increases the water’s density, and you float higher in a denser liquid. 
There’s so much salt in the ocean that if all the water suddenly evaporated, a 60-m-thick layer of salt would coat the ocean floor. This layer would consist of about 75% halite (NaCl) with lesser amounts of gypsum (CaSO4s(2O), anhydrite (CaSO4), and other salts. Oceanographers refer to the concentration of salt in water as salinity. Although ocean salinity averages 3.5%, measurements from around the world demonstrate that salinity varies with location, ranging from about 1.0% to about 4.1%. Salinity reflects the balance between the addition of freshwater by rivers or rain and the removal of freshwater by evaporation, for when seawater evaporates, salt stays behind; salinity also depends on water temperature, for warmer water can hold more salt in solution than can cold water. 
When the Titanic sank after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic, most of the unlucky passengers and crew who jumped or fell into the sea died within minutes because the seawater temperature at the site of the tragedy approached freezing, and cold water removes heat from a body very rapidly. Yet swimmers can play for hours in the Caribbean, where sea-surface temperatures reach 28C (83F). Though the average global sea-surface temperature hovers around 17C, it ranges between freezing near the poles to almost 35C in restricted tropical seas. The correlation of average temperature with latitude exists because the intensity of solar radiation varies with latitude. 
Water temperature in the ocean varies markedly with depth. Waters warmed by the Sun are less dense and tend to remain at the surface. An abrupt thermocline below which water temperatures decrease sharply, reaching near freezing at the sea floor appears at a depth of about 300 m in the tropics. There is no pronounced thermocline in polar seas, since surface waters there are already so cold.

The Coriolis Effect 

Imagine that you have a huge cannon aim it due south and fire a projectile from the North Pole to a target on the equator (figure below a). If the Earth were standing still, the shot would follow a line of longitude. But the Earth isn't standing still. It rotates counter-clockwise around its “axis” (an imaginary line that passes through the planet’s centre and its geographic poles). To an observer in space, an object at the pole doesn't move at all as the Earth spins because it is sitting on the axis, but an object  at the equator moves at about 1,665 km/h (1,035 mph). Because of this difference, the target on the equator will have moved by the time the projectile reaches it. In fact, to an observer standing on the Earth and moving with it, the projectile follows a curving trajectory. The same phenomenon happens if you place the cannon on the equator and fire the projectile due north (figure below b)the projectile’s path curves because the projectile moves eastwards progressively faster than the land beneath while moving north. (The same phenomenon, of course, happens in the southern hemisphere, but in reverse.) This behaviour is called the Coriolis effect, after the French engineer who, in 1835, described its consequences. Because of the Coriolis effect, north-flowing currents in the northern hemisphere deflect to the east, and south flowing currents deflect to the west.

The Coriolis effect because the velocity of a point at the equator, in the direction of the Earth's spin, is greater than that of a point near the poles.

Currents: Rivers in the Sea 

Since first setting sail on the open ocean, people have known that the water of the ocean does not stand still, but rather flows or circulates at velocities of up to several kilometers per hour in fairly well-defined streams called currents. Oceanographic studies demonstrate that circulation in the sea occurs at two levels: surface currents affect the upper hundred meters of water, and deep currents keep the remainder of the water column in motion. 

 The major surface currents of the world’s oceans.
Surface currents occur in all the world’s oceans (figure above). They result from interaction between the sea surface and the wind as moving air molecules shear across the surface of the water, the friction between air and water drags the water along with it. The Earth’s rotation, however, generates the Coriolis effect, a phenomenon that causes surface currents in the northern hemisphere to veer toward the right and surface currents in the southern hemisphere to veer toward the left of the average wind direction.  Across the width of an ocean, the Coriolis effect causes surface currents to make a complete loop, known as a gyre. Surface water may become trapped for a long time in the centre of the gyre, where currents hardly exist, so these regions tend to accumulate floating plastics, sludge, and seaweed. The “Sargasso Sea,” named for a kind of floating seaweed, lies at the centre of the North Atlantic gyre, and the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” an accumulation of floating plastic and trash, lies at the centre of the North Pacific gyre. Figure above is a simplification of currents interactions of currents with coastlines create chains of eddies, in which water circulates in small loops (figure below a–c).

 The complexity of the ocean’s currents. An animation by NASA, based on data collected over a two-year period, shows the details of eddies and swirls in the ocean, and emphasizes that currents interact with the coasts.
Surface water and deeper water in the ocean exchange at a number of locations. Specifically, in downwelling zones, surface water sinks, and in upwelling zones, deeper water rises. Downwelling and upwelling occur for a number of reasons. For example, in places where winds blow surface water shoreward, an oversupply of water develops along the coast, so surface water must sink to make room. And where winds blow surface water away from the shore, a deficit of water develops along the coast, so deeper water must rise to fill the gap. Upwelling of deeper water also occurs near the equator, where winds blow steadily from east to west, because the Coriolis effect deflects surface currents to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere, thereby leading to the development of a water deficit along the equator. The resulting rise of cool, nutrient-rich water fosters an abundance of life in equatorial water. 

Global-scale upwelling and downwelling of ocean currents.
Contrasts in water density, caused by differences in temperature and salinity, can also drive upwelling and downwelling. We refer to the rising and sinking of water driven by such density contrasts as thermohaline circulation. During thermohaline circulation, denser (cold and/or saltier) water sinks, whereas water that is less dense (warm and/or less salty) rises. As a result, the cold water in polar regions sinks and flows back along the bottom of the ocean toward the equator. This process divides the ocean vertically into a number of distinct water masses, which mix only very slowly with one another. In the Atlantic Ocean, for example, the Antarctic Bottom Water sinks along the coast of Antarctica, and the North Atlantic Deep Water sinks in the north polar region (figure above a). The combination of surface currents and thermohaline circulation, like a conveyor belt, moves water and heat among the various ocean basins and moderates global climate (figure above b).
Figures credited to Stephen Marshak.


Correlation of Strata

The need to classify and organize rock layers according to relative age led to the geologic discipline of stratigraphy.

Rocks at different locations on Earth give different "snapshots" of the geologic time column.  At a particular location, the rocks never fully represent the entire geologic rock column due to extensive erosion or periods of non-deposition or erosion.

The thickness of a particular rock layer (representing a particular time period) will vary from one location to another or even disappear altogether.

The process that stratigraphers use to understand these relationships between strata at different localities is known as "correlation".

For example, rocks named Juras (for the Juras Mountains) in France and Switzerland were traced northward and found to overlie a group of rocks in Germany namedTrias.  The Trias rocks in turn, were found to underlie rocks named Cretaceous in England (the chalky “White Cliffs of Dover”).

Based on these relationships, is the Juras older or younger than the Cretaceous?  What are the two possible scenarios?

The location where a particular rock layer was discovered is called a "type locality".  Most of the “type localities” of the geologic time column are located in Europe because this is where the science of stratigraphic correlation started.

The Sedgwick/Murchison Debate

In 1835, Adam Sedgwick (Britain) and Roderick Murchison (Scotland) decided to name the entire succession of sedimentary rocks exposed throughout Europe.  They were geology colleagues and friends, but they had a famous argument over the division between the Cambrian and Silurian in Wales. 

Sedgwick’s topmost Cambrian overlapped with Murchison’s lowermost Silurian.  Eventually the disputed rock layers were assigned the age “Ordovician”.
Rocks Divisions versus Time Divisions

It is important to remember that the rock record is an incomplete representation of real geologic time due to the presence of unconformities.

Therefore, geologists are careful to distinguish geologic time from the rocks that represent snapshots of geologic time:


Examples: Precambrian/Phanerozoic


          Examples: Paleozoic/Cenozoic/Mesozoic


               Examples: Cambrian/Ordovician/Silurian

                    Formations (The main stratigraphic unit)

Rock divisions, such as the Cambrian System, can be correlated worldwide based on fossils.  In contrast, rock units such as groups, formations, and members are localized subsets of systems.  Rock units depend on the environment of deposition, which varies from one location to another.
Stratigraphic Rock Units

The rock divisions (Eonothem, Erathem, and System) simply divide rocks into the appropriate time eon, era, or period.  Obviously, all Cambrian System rocks are from the Cambrian regardless of their location on Earth's surface.

In contrast, the rock units (Groups, Formations, Members) are localized features (of limited regional extent) that depend on the local environment of deposition. 

The main rock unit of stratigraphy is the formation, a localized and distinctive (easily recognizable) geologic feature (i.e., the Chinle Formation of Late Triassic lake and river deposits in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico).

Different formations are distinguished and correlated based upon lithology (overall rock characteristics), which includes:

1) Composition of mineral grains
2) Color
3) Texture (grain size, sedimentary structures)
4) Fossils

Formations are “clumped” into groups and divided into members.

Datum- In correlation, a datum is a line of equivalent age.

The ideal datum is a stratigraphic marker that is both geographically extensive and represents an instantaneous moment in geologic time.  A good example is a volcanic ash layer that formed by a specific volcanic eruption followed by worldwide dispersal by atmospheric currrents.
Using Fossils for Strata Correlation

Sedimentary rocks that date from the same age can be correlated over long distances with the help of fossils.

Principle of Fossil Correlation- Strata containing similar collections of fossils (called fossil assemblages) are of similar age.  Also, fossils at the bottom of the strata are older than fossils closer to the top of the strata.

Index Fossils- Index fossils are the main type of fossil used in correlation.  To be an index fossil, a fossil species must be:

1) Easily recognized (unique).
2) Widespread in occurrence from one location to another.
3) Restricted to a limited thickness of strata (limited in age range).

The limited life-spans of these organisms allows us to easily constrain the age of rocks in which they occur.

The best index fossils are those that are free floating and independent of a particular sedimentary environment.  For example, organisms that are attached to one particular type of sediment are going to have limited geographic extent and will not be found in many rock types.   By contrast, organisms that are “free floaters” or “swimmers” will have a wider geographic extent and be found in many different rock types (i.e., trilobites).

fossil zone is an interval of strata characterized by a distinctive index fossil.

Fossil zones typically represent packets of 500,000 to 2,000,000 years.  Fossil zones boundaries do not have to correlate with rock formation boundaries.  Fossil zones may be restricted to a small portion of a formation or they may span more than one formation.

A fundamental assumption in fossil correlation is that once a species goes extinct, it will never reappear in the rock record at a later time.

Fossil types that are generally restricted to just one type of sediment are called facies fossils.  They are not very useful in correlation, but are extremely useful for reconstructing paleoenvironments.
  What is a Fossil?

Some examples of fossils are:

1) The preservation of entire organisms or body parts.  This includes the preservation of actual body parts (mammoths in tundra), as well as morphological preservation via the replacement of biological matter by minerals (petrified wood).
A petrified log in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, U.S.A.-impressions

2) Casts or impressions of organisms.
Eocene fossil fish Priscacara liops from Green River Formation of Utah

3) Tracks.
Trackways from ''Climactichnites'' (probably a slug-like animal), in the Late Cambrian of central Wisconsin.

4) Burrows.
Thalassinoides, burrows produced by crustaceans, from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel.

5) Fecal matter (called coprolites).
Carnivorous dinosaur dung found in southwestern Saskatchewan,  USGS Image.
Theories on The Origin of Fossils

At one time, fossils were considered to be younger than the rocks in which they occurred.  People speculated that fossils formed when animals crawled into preexisting rock, died, and became preserved in stone.

Some people interpreted the widespread occurrence of fossilized marine organisms on land as support for a world-wide flood as described in scripture.

Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452 - 1519) Interpretation of Fossils
Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1512-1515.

Regarding fossils that occur in strata many miles from the sea, da Vinci argued that:

1) The fossils could not have been washed in during a "Great Deluge" because they could not have traveled hundreds of miles in just 40 days.

2) The unbroken nature of the fossils suggest that they were not transported by violent water; instead the fossils represent formerly living communities of organisms that were preserved in situ.

3) The presence of fossil-rich strata separated by fossil-poor strata suggests that the fossils were not the result of a single worldwide flood, but formed during many separate events.
Lateral Variations in Formations

Historically, geologists initially believed that the layer-cake sequence of sedimentary rocks existed worldwide (i.e., that the layers extended indefinitely without change).

By the late 1700’s people began to realize that formations had a limited extent both vertically (up and down) and laterally (horizontally across Earth's surface).

People also began to realize that lithologic variations (changes in texture, color, fossils, etc) can occur laterally within formations themselves.

Today we interpret such variations in the context of modern depositional environments.  For example:



Near shore marine- The energy is high due to rough waters at the water-land interface.

Coarse sediments, and fossils of robust organisms that can withstand high energy environments.

Deep ocean- The energy is low due to the general calmness of water away from land.

Fine sediments, and fossils of more fragile organisms.

Note that the two different lithologies can be deposited simultaneously (representing the same moment in geological time) so long as they are deposited at different locations.

Different lithologies grade laterally into one another in a manner called intertonging.  An example is the way that the Old Red Sandstone of Wales (a terrestrial deposit) grades laterally into marine sediments of Devonshire to the south (both are Devonian).

Intertonging reflects the changes in depositional environments that occur over space and time (lateral and temporal variations).  Often these changes in environment are linked to shoreline migrations resulting from sea-level changes over time.
 Depositional Environments and Sedimentary Facies

Depositonal environments are characterized initially by the sediments that accumulate within them, and ultimately by the sedimentary rock types that form.  For example, a reef environment is characterized by carbonate reef-building organisms.  Ultimately, the sediments become lithified to form fossiliferous limestone.

sedimentary facies is a three-dimensional body of sediment (or rock) that contains lithologies representative of a particular depositional environment.  For example,




Mudstone and shale with interbedded sandstone.

Ocean basin

Laminated pelagic clays, cherts, and possible limestone.


Well-sorted, well-rounded, and possibly cross-bedded sandstone.

Analysis of sedimentary facies helps geologists to reconstruct past geologic environments and paleogeography.
Transgressions vs. Regressions

The sea-level has fluctuated throughout geologic history, and these changes have a profound effect on the geologic rock record.

transgression is an advance of the sea over land.

regression is a retreat of the sea from land area.

A transgressive facies pattern is characterized by:

1. The movement of marine facies landward over terrestrial facies.
2. A fining-upward sequence (the new marine environment is lower energy than the prior terrestrial environment).
3. A basal, erosional unconformity (erosion was more profound before the seas advanced).

A regressive facies pattern is characterized by:

1. The movement of terrestrial facies seaward and over marine facies.
2. A coarsening-upward sequence.
3. An erosional unconformity at the top.

Walther’s Law- Over time, the lateral changes in sedimentary facies due to transgressions and regressions will also produce vertical changes in sedimentary facies:

1. A transgressive facies sequence fines in the direction of the transgression, and also fines upward.
2. A regressive facies sequence coarsens in the direction of the regression, and also coarsens upward.

What causes transgressions and regressions?

1. Worldwide rises and falls in sea level (eustatic changes), perhaps related to climatic change.
2. Tectonic uplift, isostatic rebound, or crustal subsidence.
3. Rapid sedimentation.

It is often difficult or impossible to determine the exact cause of a transgression or regression seen in the geologic record.  The cause may be worldwide or local.  The fact that there is a transgression or regression indicates an “apparent” sea-level change.
 The Stratigraphy of Unconformities

Recall that unconformities represent missing time due to:

1)      Periods of non-deposition.
2)      Periods of erosion.

The main types of unconformities are:
1. Disconformity
2. Angular unconformity
3. Nonconformity
4. Paraconformity

Unconformities vary from one location to another (just like rock formations and sedimentary facies).  In other words, some locations along the unconformity surface will represent more missing geologic time than others.

Unconformities may eventually disappear laterally and transition into a conformable sequence of strata.

Oil companies use large scale, unconformity bounded rock units called sequences to correlate rocks in a process called sequence stratigraphy.

Six major unconformity-bounded sequences are recognized worldwide in the Phanerozoic.  These sequences are not restricted to period or era boundaries.

The major sequences are believed to represent worldwide fluctuations in sea-level.