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8/10/2017 Sedimentary Structures

Sedimentary Structures

STRATIFICATION refers to the way sediment layers are stacked over each other, and can occur on the scale of
hundreds of meters, and down to submillimeter scale. It is a fundamental feature of sedimentary rocks.

This picture from Canyonlands National Monument/Utah shows


strata
exposed by the downcutting of the Green River. Large scale
stratification as seen here is often the result of the migration of
sedimentary environments (see below). Let us imagine a
shoreline
that has coexisting slat marsh, beach, and offshore muds. Each
environment is characterized by a different sediment type. If this
shoreline receives more sediment than the waves can remove, it
will
gradually build out (to right). Over time the different sediment
types
will be stacked on top of each other and the migration of the
shoreline
will produce superimposed layers (stratification) of different types
of
sedimentary rock.
Above image shows small scale
stratification
in a shale (image is 7 mm tall). This kind
of
stratification is due to alternately
operating
depositional processes in the same
environment. Dark layers are rich in
organic
matter and are remains of algal mats. Light
layers were deposited by storms or floods,
and briefly interrupted algal growth.

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CROSS-BEDDING is a feature that occurs at various scales, and is observed in conglomerates and sandstones.
It reflects the transport of gravel and sand by currents that flow over the sediment surface (e.g. in a river
channel). sand in river channels or coastal environments

When cross-bedding forms,


sand is transported as sand-
dune like bodies (sandwave),
in which sediment is moved
up and eroded along a gentle
upcurrent slope, and
redeposited (avalanching) on
the downcurrent slope (see
upper half of picture at left).
After several of these
bedforms have migrated over
an area, and if there is more
sediment deposited than
eroded, there will be a buildup
of cross-bedded sandstone
layers. The inclination of the
cross-beds indicates the
transport direction and the
current flow (from left to right
in our diagram). The style
and size of cross bedding can
be used to estimate current
velocity, and orientation of
cross-beds allows
determination direction of
paleoflow.

Cross-bedding in a sandstone
that was originally deposited
by rivers. The deposition
currents were flowing from
right to left.

Cross-bedding can also be


produced when wind blows
over a sand surface and
creates sand dunes. The
picture on the left shows
ancient sanddunes with cross-
bedding.

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GRADED BEDDING means that the grain size within a bed decreases upwards. This type of bedding is
commonly associated with so called turbidity currents. Turbidity currents originate on the the slope between
continental shelves and deep sea basins. They are initiated by slope failure (see diagram below), after sediment
buildup has steepened the slope for a while, often some high energy event (earthquake) triggers downslope
movement of sediment. As this submarine landslide picks up speed the moving sediment mixes with water, and
forms eventually a turbid layer of water of higher density (suspended sediment) that accelerates downslope (may
pick up more sediment). When the flow reaches the deep sea basin/deep sea plain, the acceleration by gravity
stops, and the flow decelerates. As it slows down the coarsest grains settle out first, then the next finer ones, etc.
Finally a graded bed is formed. However, decelerating flow and graded bedding are no unique feature of deep
sea sediments (fluvial sediments -- floods; storm deposits on continental shelves), but in those other instances
the association of the graded beds with other sediments is markedly different (mud-cracks in fluvial sediments,
wave ripples in shelf deposits).

Diagram illustrating the


formation of a graded bed
(turbidite). Slope failure
produces turbulent
suspension that
moves/accelerates
downslope. Once it
reaches the flat deep sea
regions, it slows down due
to friction, and gradually
the sediment settles out of
suspension. Larger grain
sizes settle out first, and
then successively smaller
ones.
Example of a graded bed.
Largest grains occur at the
base, and the grain size
gradually decreases.

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RIPPLE MARKS are produced by flowing water or wave action, analogous to cross-bedding (see above), only
on a smaller scale (individual layers are at most a few cm thick).

Current ripples in a creek in Arlington.


Ripples are asymmetrical and have a
gentle slop on the right and a steep slope
on the left. Comparing with the
explanation of cross-bedding from above,
it is obvious that the currents were flowing
from right to left.

Side-view of current rippled sandstone


(note coin for scale). The cross-beds or
(more accurately) cross-laminae are
inclined to the right, thus the water was
flowing from left to right.

Modern wave ripples in Lake Whitney.


Note that ripples are symmetrical, and that
they can branch in a "tuning-fork"
fashion. Both features are characteristic of
wave ripples.
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Ancient ripples on a sandstone surface.


Ripples are symmetrical and show
"tuning-fork" branches. This indicates to a
geologist that the sandstones were
deposited in an environment with wave
action (nearshore).

MUD CRACKS form when a water rich mud dries out on the air.

You all have seen this when the mud in a


puddle dries out in the days following a
rainstorm. This example is from a
construction pit in Arlington. Due to
stretching in all directions, the mudcracks
form a polygonal pattern. We also see
several successive generations of cracks.

An example for ancient mudcracks from


rocks that are over 1 billion years old
(Snowslip Formation, Montana). Same
crack pattern as above, and also second
and third generation cracks.

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