The falling stage systems tract: recognition and importance in sequence stratigraphic analysis
Published:January 01, 2000
A. Guy Plint, Dag Nummedal, 2000. "The falling stage systems tract: recognition and importance in sequence stratigraphic analysis", Sedimentary Responses to Forced Regressions, D. Hunt, R. L. Gawthorpe
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Until recently, sequence stratigraphic models have attributed systems tracts to periods of relative sea-level rise, highstand and lowstand. Recognition of a discrete phase of deposition during relative sea-level fall has been limited to a few studies, both in clastic and carbonate systems. Our work in siliciclastic ramp settings suggests that deposition during relative sea-level fall produces a distinctive falling stage systems tract (FSST), and that this is the logical counterpart to the transgressive systems tract. The FSST lies above and basinward of the highstand systems tract, and is overlain by the lowstand systems tract. The FSST is characterized by stratal offlap, although this is likely to be difficult or impossible to recognize because of subsequent subaerial or transgressive ravinement erosion. The most practical diagnostic criteria of the FSST is the presence of erosive-based shoreface sandbodies in nearshore areas. The erosion results from wave scouring during relative sea-level fall, and the stratigraphically lowest surface defines the base of the FSST. Further offshore, shoaling-upward successions may be abruptly capped by gutter casts filled with HCS sandstone, reflecting increased wave scour on the shelf during both FSST and LST time. The top of the FSST is defined by a subaerial surface of erosion which corresponds to the sequence boundary. This surface becomes a correlative submarine conformity seaward of the shoreline, where it forms the base of the lowstand systems tract. Differentiation of the FSST and LST may be difficult, but the LST is expected to contain gradationally-based shoreface successions because it was deposited when relative sea level was rising. Internally, the FSST may be an undifferentiated body of sediment or it may be punctuated by internal regressive surfaces of marine erosion and ravinement surfaces which record higher-frequency sea-level falls and rises superimposed on a lower-frequency sea-level fall. The corresponding higher-order sequences are the building blocks of lower-order sequences. The addition of a falling stage systems tract results in a significant reduction in the proportion of strata within a sequence that are assigned to the classical highstand and lowstand systems tracts.
Many outcrop and subsurface cross-sections use an overlying ravinement, or maximum flooding surface as datum. Those surfaces might be flat, but they are not horizontal. Both dip seaward at slopes that generally are steeper than the fluvial system responsible for creating the sequence boundary. When a section is restored to such a datum, the falling stage systems tract will appear to record stratigraphic climb, whereas in fact it does not.
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Sedimentary Responses to Forced Regressions
An increasing number of studies in recent years have demonstrated that significant progradation of shallow marine systems occurs under conditions of base-level fall. These new data are forcing many sedimentary geologists to critically re-evaluate many aspects of sequence stratigraphy relating to erosion and deposition during base-level (lake- or relative sea-level) fall, and the intrinsic link made between stratal geometries and base-level change. For the first time, this volume brings together a collection of articles that focus solely on forced regressions, providing a more complete picture of the development, formation, variability and preservation of the surfaces and deposits generated during base-level fall.
The results of the studies published here will be of interest to all geologists attempting to understand the relationship between changes in base-level and stratigraphy, and to all who use sequence stratigraphy as a method of stratigraphic correlation and interpretation at outcrop and in the subsurface.