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Depositional Environment and

Gross Lithofacies Interpretation

Sedimentary environments
 Types of sedimentary environments
 Continental
 Dominated by erosion and deposition associated
with streams
 Glacial
 Wind (eolian)
 Marine
 Shallow (to about 200 meters)
 Deep (seaward of continental shelves)
Sedimentary environments
 Types of sedimentary environments
 Transitional (shoreline)
 Tidal flats
 Lagoons
 Deltas
What are you looking at? How can you describe it in the
framework of its depositional environment?

This is a delta

How do we know?
Block diagram with clastic depositional environments. The
uplifted hinterland provides the debris that is deposited in the
basin. Areas of erosion and deposition are determined by the
shape of the ideal baselevel profile
 The basic concept is: proximal continental deposits
grade into fluvio marine and transitional sediments
which are in turn replaced by more distal marine
slope and basinfloor deposits

Particle size in clastic sedimentary rocks reflects the ENERGY of the depositional
environment. E.g. (above) Nearshore - waves crashing on beaches -> fairly high
energy -> coarse textured deposits (pebbles/sand); offshore -> progressively lower
energy environments -> progressively finer textured deposits - medium sand - fine
sand - silt/mud - clay - carbonates (beyond land-derived sedimentation in shallow
tropical oceans).

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 10

Other environments are also reflected by texture e.g.

Fine-grained sandstone from

desert sand dunes. Coarse-grained conglomerate from debris
flows, pebbly beach, mountain stream.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 11

Stratification or layering indicates deposition in water e.g. rivers,
glacial meltwater, lakes, oceans.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 12

ripple marks -> dunes, tidal flats, river beds

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 13

cross bedding -> deltas, sand dunes, river deposits

Planar cross beds, Woodbine sandstone,


Harry Williams, Historical Geology 14

Planar cross beds in modern and ancient sand dunes.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 15


Sandstones vary in quartz content, grain rounding & matrix percentage.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 16

a) Quartz sandstone - predominantly quartz grains ("clean sandstone"). Long
transportation (quartz survives long transportation because it is relatively hard).
Distant from mountainous regions, tectonically stable. Often form at coastlines, in
deserts, on higher energy coastal plains and river floodplains (e.g. Padre Island).
Quartz grains make up 90%+ of rock and the grains are well rounded. Cross beds
and ripples are common.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 17

Clean quartz sandstone.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 18

b) Arkose - terrestrial; derived
from granitic highlands, contain
> 25% feldspar grains (implies
fairly short transportation,
because feldspar is relatively
soft and erodes over long
distances). Commonly pink-red

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 19

c) Graywacke – mixture of sand, clay and rock fragments ("dirty sandstone").
Indicates tectonic activity, rapid erosion/sediment accumulation, short
transportation. Often deposited as turbidites (submarine landslide deposits).
Matrix is usually 30%. Beds are often graded (sorted by size - coarse at the
base, finer at the top).

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 20

Hand specimen and thin section of graywacke.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 21

d) lithic sandstone - typical of deltaic deposits e.g. Mississippi delta. Matrix <
15%. Transitional between quartz sandstones and graywackes.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 22

Examples of major changes in environmental conditions are sea-level
changes, which have occurred frequently in the geologic past. Global, or
EUSTATIC, sea-level changes have resulted in inland seas, referred to as
EPEIRIC SEAS, covering as much as 2/3 of the North American continent. Much
of the sedimentary rock record of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras were
deposited during these periods of marine inundation. Characteristic vertical
facies sequences are created by transgressions and regressions.

Coastal facies

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 23

In a marine regression (falling sea-level) nearshore facies migrate out over
offshore facies, resulting in a coarsening-up stratigraphic sequence.

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 24

The opposite occurs in a marine transgression, resulting in a fining-up

Harry Williams, Historical Geology 25

Terrestrial shelf
 A distinction between proximal (or close to source area) and
distal (for the deposits laid down far from the provenance area)
is commonly made
 Very close to the hinterland mountain belt alluvial fan
deposits are preserved in local pockets
 The lithologies are a mixture of conglomerates, sands, silts and
 Often the deposits display a typical reddish oxidation colour,
indicative for subaerial exposure.
 The shape and geometry of the fan body heavily depends on the
paleo-geographical lay-out.
 If the fan is standing with its toes in a body of water, then a fan
delta is formed. A scree cone is a fan related to a fault scrap.
Continental Deposits
Glacial: glacial sediment = till - unsorted mix of
unweathered clasts in a clay matrix.
Alluvial Fan: coarse, arkosic sandstones and conglomerates,
marked by cross-bedding and lens-shaped channel deposits.
Form where a river emerges on to a valley floor from a
mountain chain.
 Glaciers do not effectively sort the materials that they
 Common type of resulting deposit is an unstratified
accumulation of boulders, gravel, sand, and fine silt
for which the term "till" is usually applied.
Alluvial Fans
 Alluvial fans are sedimentary deposits that
typically form at the margins of a dry basin.
 They typically contain coarse boulders and gravels
and are poorly sorted.
 Fine-grained sand and silt may be deposited near
the margin of the fan in the valley, commonly in
shallow lakes.
 These lakes may periodically dry, and evaporite
deposits may result.
Alluvial fan (California)

© Martin Miller
Continental Deposits
River Channel: lenses of conglomerate or sandstone
(arkosic or sand-size rock fragments).
Typically cross-bedded with ripple marks.
 Fluvial environments include braided and
meandering river and stream systems.
 River channels, bars, levees, and floodplains are
parts (or subenvironments) of the fluvial
 Channel deposits consist of coarse, rounded
gravel, and sand.
 Bars are made of sand or gravel.
 Levees are made of fine sand or silt.
 Floodplains are covered by silt and clay.
Terrestrial: river

Less relief, slow moving river carrying sand, silt, mud

Coarse material in centre of river bed, does not get
transported all the way to the floodplane. Material is
weathered – mostly quartz

Main sedimentary rock in Main sedimentary

upper part of river and structure in river
river bed: Ripple marks, graded
sandstone bedding

Main sedimentary rock at

edge of river and
Siltstone, Shale

Main sedimentary
structure at flood plane
Ripple marks,
Continental Deposits
Lake: Thin-bedded shales, possibly with fish fossils. May
contain mud-cracks and interbedded evaporates, if it
periodically dried up.
Floodplains: thin-bedded shales with mud-cracks & fossil
footprints. Hematite may color the floodplain deposits red.
 Lacustrine environments (or lakes) are diverse; they
may be large or small, shallow or deep, and filled with
terrigenous, carbonate, or evaporitic sediments.
 Fine sediment and organic matter settling in some
lakes produced laminated oil shales.
Terrestrial: lake

Quiet water, not able to move

coarse material
In the center of the lake only fine
clay, settling down to form mud

Main sedimentary rock:

Laminated shale

Often a seasonal slight change in grain size is seen,

Seasonal rainfall, higher energy water, coarser material
Coarser sediment.
Thus: often seasonal layering – e.g. every year two layers
Flood Plains
 Rivers commonly meander across a flat flood plain
before reaching the sea and depositing a considerable
amount of sediment.
 Rocks formed in a flood plain environment are
commonly lenses of "fluvial" sandstone deposited in
the meander channel enclosed in a shale deposited on
the flood plain.
Terrestrial shelf
 Deltas are large accumulations of sediment that are
deposited where a river empties into a standing body of
 They are one of the most significant environments of
sedimentation and include a number of subenvironments
such as stream channels, flood plain beaches, bars, and
tidal flats.
 The deposit as a whole consists of a thick accumulation of
sand, silt, and mud.
 Because of the abundance of vegetation in geologically
young deltaic environments, coals of various ranks
commonly are associated with these clastic sediments.
Marine: delta
River empties into the sea
Very quiete water, material
suspended in water ”falls” out
The delta builts further and further
out, rivers running through old delta
sediments, spreading out

Main sedimentary rock


Common sedimentary
Graded bedding

Delta is at the end of a river and is the sedimentary

record of deposition into deeper water
Nile Delta Example

Modern examples are used Facies model - a 3-D block

to gather data on processes diagram
and deposits (cores)
Facies model – 2-D vertical succession diagram

Delta components and facies
4-D models
of processes

3-D Block daigram

facies associations in a
delta distributary
channel environment
Takeaway Message:

For any sedimentary package you can examine the facies

and their relationships to each other, apply a facies model
and assign a depositional environment

So, what is this?

Catskill Delta (Devonian)
Catskill Delta builds westward through time with sediment delivered by rivers


Regressive- sediments
coarsen upwards
Terrestrial shelf
 If water discharge is locally blocked, than lakes are
formed. The infill of these lakes are mostly
characterised by rather continuous sub-parallel
seismic reflections
 The lake deposits are generally fine-grained silts and
clays, reflecting a quiet depositional environment.
 The finely laminated sediments are known as varves.
These varves are thought to be related to seasonal
changes in the sedimentation pattern.
Terrestrial shelf
Terrestrial shelf
 When the water discharge is low, than deserts may develop with
inland evaporite basins comprising sabkhas and bordering sand
dunes fields
 The good grainsize sorting and the impressive size of the foreset
bundles are typical.
 Avalanching and grain saltation are the main transport
 The stacked dunes can build important piles of sediment, that are
interesting from a hydrocarbon reservoir point of view
 Reactivation surfaces are often well expressed in the eolian
 The eolian sands have very good porosity and permeability
because of their excellent sorting.
 The sabkha deposits are fine grained and typically contain large
amounts of organic material.
Terrestrial shelf
 A mature sand is composed of more resistant
fragments like quartz and heavy minerals, while an
immature sand (arkose or grauwacke) contains a lot
softer mineral assemblies
Terrestrial shelf
Terrestrial shelf
 Hal 186
Coastal or transitional domain
 At the rivermouth the transitional domain between
terrestrial and marine sedimentation is entered
 The seismic amplitude of the foresetted reflections is
either high or low, depending on the amount of
heterolithic deposits (package of alternating
lithologies, usually mud- and siltstones intercalated
with sands of various extends)
Coastal or transitional domain
 If the wave energy and the wind-driven longshore
currents in the marine domain are strong enough,
then the debris dumped at the rivermouth will be
reworked. It is laid down as a barrier complex
bordering the coast line
Transitional Environments
 Transitional environments include those
 with both marine and continental processes
 Example:
 Deposition where a river or stream (fluvial system)
 enters the sea
 yields a body of sediment called a delta
 with deposits modified by marine processes, especially
waves and tides
 Transitional environments include
 deltas
 barrier islands and lagoons
 tidal flats
Transitional Environments

 Wind is an effective sorting agent and will selectively
transport sand.
 Gravel is left behind and dust-sized particles are lifted
high into the atmosphere and transported great
 Windblown sand forms dunes that are characterized
by well-sorted grains showing large-scale
Terrestrial: sand-dune
In desert, few plants thus
exposure to wind
Material is highly weathered
Only quartz stable,
Quartz sand main component
Tumbling, rolling grains ->

Main sedimentary sediment:

Well sorted, cross bedded
Transitional Deposits
Delta: formed when river flows into a body of standing
water (lake or sea). Mostly thick sequences of siltstone
and shale, marked by low-angle cross-bedding, cut by
coarse-grained channel deposits. Can contain peat/coal
beds as well as marine fossils.
Simple Deltas
 The simplest deltas are those in lakes. They consist of

 foreset
 bottomset
 As the
delta builds
outward, it
 and forms a vertical sequence of rocks
 that becomes coarser-grained from the bottom to top
 The bottomset beds may contain marine (or lake) fossils,
 whereas the topset beds contain land fossils
Marine Deltas
 Marine deltas rarely conform precisely
 to this simple threefold division because
 they are strongly influenced
 by one or more modifying processes
 When fluvial processes prevail
 a stream/river-dominated delta results
 Strong wave action
 produces a wave dominated delta
 Tidal influences
 result in tide-dominated deltas
 Stream/river-
dominated deltas
 have long
 extending far
 Mississippi
River delta
Wave-Dominated Deltas
 Wave-dominated
 such as the Nile
Delta of Egypt
 also have
 but their seaward
 is modified by
wave action
Tide-Dominated Deltas
 Tide-Dominated Deltas,
 such as the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta

 have
 along
of tidal
Transitional Deposits
Beach, Barrier Island, Dune: a Barrier Island is an
elongate sand bar built by wave action. All are comprised
of well-sorted quartz sandstones with rounded grains.
Beach and Barrier Island: low angle cross-bedding
and marine fossils.
Dune: high-angle and low-angle cross-bedding and
occasional fossil footprints.
All 3 environments can also contain carbonate sand in
tropical areas producing cross-bedded clastic
Dune Deposits

Cross-bedded Sandstone.
Barrier Islands
 On broad continental margins
 with abundant sand, long barrier islands lie offshore
 separated from the mainland by a lagoon
 Barrier islands are common along the Gulf
 and Atlantic Coasts of the United States
 Many ancient deposits formed in this environment
 Subenvironments of a barrier island complex:
 beach sand grading offshore into finer deposits
 dune sands contain shell fragments
 not found in desert dunes
 fine-grained lagoon deposits
 with marine fossils and bioturbation
Barrier Island Complex
 Subenvironments of a barrier island complex
Barrier Island

Shallow marine shelf
Marine: coastal beach

Sand carried along shoreline by

currents, with waves carried
back and forth,
Getting sorted, and well rounded

Main sedimentary rock

Medium grained

Common sedimentary
Ripple marks
Marine: shallow water carbonate

If water is very clear (no clastic

sediments) and full of nutrients
-> fragile organisms like corals
can live which also need a
tropical climate

Material is made of rounded shells

& shell fragments, and ooids –
rounded carbonate grains formed
by precipitation of carbonate and
rolling in the surf.

Main sedimentary rock at beaches/slopes

Fossiliferous limestone

Main sedimentary rock in lagoons:

fine grained limestone - micrite
Shallow Marine
 Shallow seas are widespread along continental margins
and were even more extensive during many periods of the
geologic past.
 Sediments deposited in these shallow marine waters from
extensive layers of well-sorted sand, shale, limestone, and
dolomite, that commonly occur in a cyclic sequence as a
result of shifting depositional environments related to
changes in sea level.
 When the rate of evaporation exceeds the rate of water
supply, chemicals dissolved in the water may be
concentrated and precipitated as beds of gypsum, halite,
and more complex salts.
Shallow Marine
 Wave-action pulverizes soft minerals and fossils
 Pulverized material swept out to sea
 Remaining material is well-sorted, rounded, sand-sized
 Most of these deposits will be durable minerals, such as
 Dominant rock in Florida is limestone, so we have soft
carbonate grains on our beaches as well

Marine Environments
 Marine environments include
 continental shelf
 continental slope
 continental rise
 deep-seafloor
 Much of the detritus eroded from continents
 is eventually deposited in marine environments
 but sediments derived from chemical
 and organic activity are found here as well, such as
 limestone
 evaporites
 both deposited in shallow marine environments
Marine Environments

Detrital Marine Environments
 The gently sloping area adjacent to a continent
 is a continental shelf
 It consists of a high-energy inner part that is
 periodically stirred up by waves and tidal currents
 Its sediment is mostly sand,
 shaped into large cross-bedded dunes
 Bedding planes are commonly marked
 by wave-formed ripple marks
 Marine fossils and bioturbation are typical
Slope and Rise
 The low-energy part of the shelf
 has mostly mud with marine fossils,
 and interfingers with inner-shelf sand
 Much sediment derived from the continents
 crosses the continental shelf
 and is funneled into deeper water
 through submarine canyons
 It eventually comes to rest
 on the continental slope and continental rise
 as a series of overlapping submarine fans
Slope and Rise
 Once sediment passes the outer margin
 of the self, the shelf-slope break,
 turbidity currents transport it
 So sands with graded bedding are common
 as well as mud that settled from seawater
Detrital Marine Environments
 Shelf, slope and rise environments
 The main avenues of sediment transport
 across the shelf are submarine canyons
currents carry
sediment to

Sand with
graded bedding
and mud settled
from seawater
Marine Deposits
Lagoon: semi-enclosed body of water between a barrier
island and the mainland. Fine grained dark shale cut by
tidal channels of coarse sand containing marine fossils.
Limestones may also form in lagoons adjacent to reefs.
Marine Deposits
Shallow Marine Shelves: grain size decreases offshore.
Widespread sandstones, siltstones, shales. Sandstone &
siltstone contains ripple marks, low-angle cross-beds, &
marine fossils. If tidal flats near shore are alternately
covered & exposed, mud-cracked marine shales form.
Reefs: Massive limestone in core of reef, with steep beds of
limestone breccia forming seaward, horizontal beds of
sand-sized and finer-grained limestones form landward.
All are full of fossil fragments (coral, shells, etc.).
Deep Marine Deposits: shale = quiet deposition;
greywacke sandstones (with graded bedding and
current ripple marks) deposited by turbidity currents.
Deeper marine slope and
Marine: deep marine
At the steep slopes of ocean basins enormeous marine landslides occur
producing turbidites,
They form submarine fans
Main sedimentary rock next to slopes - sandstone
Main sedimentary structure next to slopes - graded bedding
Further offshore, fine clay and plankton settle

Main sedimentary rock

far offshore

Finely laminated
mudstone, chalk,
Deep Sea
 Beyond the continental rise, the seafloor is
 nearly completely covered by fine-grained deposits
 pelagic clay and ooze
 with no sediment at all
 near mid-ocean ridges

 sand and gravel are notably absent

 The main sources of sediment are
 windblown dust from continents or oceanic islands
 volcanic ash
 shells of microorganisms that dwelled in surface waters
of the ocean
Deep Marine Deposits
 Mainly remains of carbonate and
silica microorganisms which die and
settle to the sea-floor
 Submarine landslides may carry
material off the continental shelf, and
sub-marine volcanoes may contribute
 Landslide deposits are poorly sorted
Deep Sea
 Types of sediment are
 pelagic clay,
 which covers most of the deeper parts
 of the seafloor
 calcareous (CaCO3) and siliceous (SiO2) oozes
 made up of microscopic shells
Deep Ocean
 The deep oceans contain a variety of sediment types. Adjacent to
the continents, a considerable amount of sediment is transported
from the continental margins by turbidity currents.
 As the current moves across the deep-ocean floor its velocity
gradually decreases, and sediment carried in suspension settles
 The resulting deposit is a widespread layer of sediment in which
the size of grains grade from coarse at the base to fine at the top.
 Such deep-sea deposits are characterized by sequences of graded
beds of these "turbidites".
 Distant to the continents, dust transported by eolian processes
may accumulate as muds.
 In sediment-starved parts of oceans away from the continents,
siliceous ooze formed of the tests of microorganisms called
radiolaria accumulate.
 These sediments form the radiolarian cherts of the rock record.
4-2 Sedimentation in the Ocean

 Deep-sea stratigraphy refers to the broad-scale

layering of sediments that cover the basaltic crust.
The stratigraphy of the deep sea is strongly
influenced by sea-floor spreading.
4-2 Sedimentation in the Ocean

The Atlantic basin contains a “two-layer-cake” stratigraphy–a

thick basal layer of carbonate ooze overlain by a layer of

Stratigraphy of the Atlantic Basin

4-2 Sedimentation in the Ocean

The Pacific basin contains a “four-layer-cake” stratigraphy,

because unlike the Atlantic its sea floor while spreading
crosses the equator where the CCD is lower (5000m instead
of 4200-4500m)
Stratigraphy and Model of Pacific Basin
Carbonate platform margin
Carbonate Environments
 Carbonate rocks are
 limestone, which is composed of calcite
 dolostone, which is composed of dolomite
 most dolostone is altered limestone
 Limestone is similar to detrital rock in some ways
 Many limestones are made up of
 gravel-sized grains
 sand-sized grains
 microcrystalline carbonate mud called micrite
 but the grains are all calcite
 and are formed in the environment of deposition,
 instead of being transported there
Limestone Environments
 Some limestone form in lakes,
 but most limestone by is deposited
 in warm shallow seas
 on carbonate shelves and
 on carbonate platforms rising from oceanic depths
 Deposition occurs where
 little detrital sediment, especially mud, is present
 Carbonate barriers form in high-energy areas and may
 reefs
 banks of skeletal particles
 accumulations of spherical carbonate grains known as
 which make up the grains in oolitic limestone
Carbonate Shelf
 The
shelf is
attached to a
 Examples
occur in
Florida and
the Persian
Carbonate Platform

 Carbonates may be deposited on a platform

 rising from oceanic depths
 This example shows a cross-section
 of the present-day Great Bahama Bank
 in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Florida
Carbonate Subenvironments
 Reef rock tends to be
 structureless
 composed of skeletons of corals, mollusks, sponges and
other organisms
 Carbonate banks are made up of
 layers with horizontal beds
 cross-beds
 wave-formed ripple marks
 Lagoons tend to have
 micrite
 with marine fossils
 bioturbation
Evaporite Environments
 Evaporites consist of
 rock salt
 rock gypsum
 They are found in environments such as
 playa lakes
 saline lakes
 but most of the extensive deposits formed in the ocean
 Evaporites are not nearly as common
 as sandstone, mudrocks and limestone,
 but can be abundant locally
 Large evaporite deposits
 lie beneath the Mediterranean Seafloor
 more than 2 km thick
 in western Canada, Michigan, Ohio, New York,
 and several Gulf Coast states
 How some of these deposits originated
 is controversial, but geologists agree
 that high evaporation rates of seawater
 caused minerals to precipitate from solution
 Coastal environments in arid regions
 such as the present-day Persian Gulf
 meet the requirements
Carbonate compensation depth
and oceanic basins
Case study:
The Atlantic Passive Margin
Case study:
Pacific Destructive/Subduction Margin
The Drying Up of the
4-4 Mediterranean Sea

 The Mediterranean basin is located where plates

are colliding as Africa moves northward relative to
 Anhydrite and stromatolites of Miocene age
indicate that the Mediterranean sea “dried” out
between 5 and 25 million years ago.
 Two models have been suggested to account for this
emptying of the Mediterranean Sea of its water.
 The “Uplift” Model
 The “Drying-Out” Model
Refilling the Mediterranean Sea
 After drying out, seawater from the Atlantic Ocean
cascaded down the face of the Gibraltar Sill,
refilling it in about 100 years.