The origin and occurrence of subaqueous sedimentary cracks
Published:January 01, 2017
Sean McMahon, Ashleigh van Smeerdijk Hood, Duncan McIlroy, 2017. "The origin and occurrence of subaqueous sedimentary cracks", Earth System Evolution and Early Life: A Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier, A. T. Brasier, D. McIlroy, N. McLoughlin
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The rock record attests that sediments have cracked at or below the sediment–water interface in strictly subaqueous settings throughout Earth history. In recent decades, a number of hypotheses have been advanced to explain this phenomenon, but these are widely regarded as being mutually exclusive and there is little consensus about which model is correct. In this paper, we first review the geometries, lithologies and range of facies in which subaqueous sedimentary cracks occur in the geological record, with particular attention to cracks in carbonates. We then evaluate current models for subaqueous cracking, emphasizing that different models may be correct with respect to different sets of cracks, but that cracking is generally a two-step process involving sediment stabilization prior to disruption. We also present the results of some simple new experiments designed to test the dominant models of crack formation. These results demonstrate for the first time that microbial mats can produce thin, shallow cracks at the sediment–water interface. We conclude that the presence of cracks in marine, brackish and lacustrine rocks should not be used uncritically to infer fluctuations in salinity in the depositional environment.
Supplementary material: A video showing a micro-CT scan of a hand-sample from the Monteville Formation, South Africa is available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3580673
Gold Open Access: This article is published under the terms of the CC-BY 3.0 license.
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Earth System Evolution and Early Life: A Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier
This volume in memory of Professor Martin Brasier, which has many of his unfinished works, summarizes recent progress in some of the hottest topics in palaeobiology including cellular preservation of early microbial life and early evolution of macroscopic animal life, encompassing the Ediacara biota. The papers focus on how to decipher evidence for early life, which requires exceptional preservation, employment of state-of-the-art techniques and also an understanding gleaned from Phanerozoic lagerstätte and modern analogues. The papers also apply Martin’s MOFAOTYOF principle (my oldest fossils are older than your oldest fossils), requiring an integrated approach to understanding fossils. The adoption of the null-hypothesis that all putative traces of life are abiotic until proven otherwise, and the consideration of putative fossils within their spatial context, characterized the work of Martin Brasier, as is well demonstrated by the papers in this volume.