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Book Chapter

The Role of Climate in the Creation and Destruction of Continental Stratigraphic Records: An Example From the Northern Margin of the Sahara Desert

By
Christopher S. Swezey
Christopher S. Swezey
U.S. Geological Survey, Eastern Energy Resources Team, Mailstop 956 National Center, Reston, Virginia 20192, U.S.A.
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Published:
January 01, 2003

Abstract

The Quaternary stratigraphy of the Chott Rharsa Basin, which is located in southern Tunisia (North Africa) on the northern margin of the Sahara Desert, displays distinct patterns of sediment distribution and stratigraphic accumulation as functions of climatic and tectonic variables. The northern margin of the basin is characterized by terraces of fluvial–lacustrine origin and by alluvial fans that have prograded into the basin from uplifted areas to the north. The center of the basin is occupied by a continental sabkha that lies below sea level, and the southern margin of the basin consists of eolian, lacustrine, and sabkha deposits. The Quaternary stratigraphic record is thicker and spans a longer period of time (at least 160,000 years) on the northern margin of the basin, but available dates reveal that major changes in the stratigraphic record have occurred at a relatively low frequency (tens of thousands of years). In contrast, the Quaternary record on the southern margin of the basin is thinner and spans a shorter period of time (about 13,000 years), but major changes in the stratigraphic record have occurred at a relatively higher frequency (thousand-year intervals). In addition, the northern and southern margins of the basin are out of phase with respect to the timing of deposition. During times of humid climates, the alluvial and fluvial systems on the northern margin of the basin are more active, while eolian systems on the southern margin are less active (i.e., stabilized by vegetation). In contrast, during arid times the alluvial and fluvial systems are less active, eolian systems are more active (i.e., not stabilized), and older alluvial and fluvial deposits tend to be reworked into eolian deposits. Furthermore, the detailed record on the southern margin of the basin reveals a history of creation and destruction of eolian stratigraphic records via temporal and spatial movement of an eolian sequence boundary, with each rise and fall of the water table (and associated climate change). The resulting stratigraphic record is thus the net sum of the positions of sequence boundaries, as a function of climate and water table. Finally, the record from the Chott Rharsa Basin demonstrates that subsidence alone is not sufficient for the creation of a stratigraphic record, and that the role of climate in this matter is more important than tectonic activity.

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Contents

SEPM Special Publication

Climate Controls on Stratigraphy

C. Blaine Cecil
C. Blaine Cecil
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N. Terence Edgar
N. Terence Edgar
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SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology
Volume
77
ISBN electronic:
9781565762145
Publication date:
January 01, 2003

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