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Sedimentology encompasses the study of modern sediments and understanding the processes that deposit them. It also compares these observations to studies of ancient sedimentary rocks. Sedimentologists apply their understanding of modern processes to historically formed sedimentary rocks, allowing them to understand how they formed.
Sedimentary rocks cover most of the Earth's surface, record much of the Earth's history, and harbor the fossil record. Sedimentology is closely linked to stratigraphy, the study of the physical and temporal relationships between rock layers or strata.
Uniformitarian geology, the premise that the processes affecting the earth today are the same as in the past, is the basis for determining how sedimentary features in the rock record were formed. By comparing similar features today - for example, sand dunes in the Sahara or the Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa, Colorado - to the ancient sandstones such as the Wingate Sandstone of Utah and Arizona, of the southwest USA; since both have the same features, both can be shown to have formed from eolian (wind) deposition.
Sedimentary rock types
There are four primary types of sedimentary rocks: clastics, carbonates, evaporites, and chemical.
Importance of sedimentary rocks
Sedimentary rocks provide a multitude of products which modern and ancient society has come to utilise.
The aim of sedimentology, studying sediments, is to derive information on the depositional conditions which acted to deposit the rock unit, and the relation of the individual rock units in a basin into a coherent understanding of the evolution of the sedimentary sequences and basins, and thus, the Earth's geological history as a whole.
The scientific basis of this is the principle of uniformitarianism, which states that the sediments within ancient sedimentary rocks were deposited in the same way as sediments which are being deposited at the Earth's surface today.
Sedimentological conditions are recorded within the sediments as they are laid down; and in reference to Salvador Dalí's Persistence of memory, the form of the sediments at present reflects the events of the past and all events which affect the sediments, from the source of the sedimentary material to the stresses enacted upon them after diagenesis are available for study.
However, sedimentological study produces interpretations of past depositional and environmental conditions and care must be taken in analysing sedimentary rocks in a scientific manner in order to gain a picture of the events which occurred within the past.
The principle of superposition is critical to the interpretation of sedimentary sequences, and in older metamorphic terrains or fold and thrust belts where sediments are often intensely folded or deformed, recognising younging indicators or fining up sequences is critical to interpretation of the sedimentary section and often the deformation and metamorphic structure of the region.
Folding in sediments is analysed with the principle of original horizontality, which states that sediments are deposited at their angle of repose which, for most types of sediment, is essentially horizontal. Thus, when the younging direction is known, the rocks can be "unfolded" and interpreted according to the contained sedimentary information.
The principle of lateral continuity states that layers of sediment initially extend laterally in all directions unless obstructed by a physical object or topography.
The principle of cross-cutting relationships states that whatever cuts across or intrudes into the layers of strata is younger then the layers of strata.
Methodology of sedimentology
The methods employed by sedimentologists to gather data and evidence on the nature and depositional conditions of sedimentary rocks include;
Recent developments in sedimentology
The longstanding understanding of how the mudstones and other fine grained sediments form is being challenged as being in error, according to research by geologists at Indiana University (Bloomington) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The research, which appears in the December 14th edition of Science, counters the prevailing view of geologists that mud only settles when water is placid, instead showing that "muds will accumulate even when currents move swiftly."
What is most interesting for students of the geological and fossil record is how this research potentially overturns the previous view on mudstone deposition, erosion, and re-deposition, as the press release outlines:
"The finding feels like something of a vindication, Schieber says. He and his colleagues have (genially) argued about whether muds could deposit from rapidly flowing water. Schieber had posited the possibility after noting an apparent oddity in the sedimentary rock record."
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sedimentology". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|