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Stratigraphy is the key to the understanding of Earth history. “Sophisticated stratigraphy” is the science that is now being practiced. It refers to the new tools and new forms of interpretation that are becoming increasingly possible through the development of new concepts and the application of advanced analytical techniques. Refinement of the geological time scale is an essential part of this work. Improvements in methods of radiometric dating, chemostratigraphy and magnetostratigraphy are ongoing and have been joined by new concepts of cyclostratigraphy and astrochronology. The modern stratigraphic record has been systematized by the application of the concept of the Global Stratigraphic Section and Point (GSSP), and has been fleshed out by the addition of much primary data obtained from the Deep Sea Drilling Project and its successors. This record has become one of the primary sources of data for the construction of the geological time scale, for the unraveling of Earth's paleoclimates, for studies in paleoceanography, and for the reconstruction of plate-tectonic history.

The modern practice of sequence stratigraphy began with improved methods of interpretation of reflection-seismic data (seismic stratigraphy) and has evolved into a powerful system for stratigraphic documentation and interpretation, yielding many insights into allogenic processes of basin formation. A debate regarding the importance of eustatic sea-level change as a principal control on sequence architecture was largely resolved in the 1990s with the recognition that this is only one of several regional to global processes that affect processes of sedimentary accumulation. At the same time, the increasing refinement in our ability to date and correlate the record has emphasized the incompleteness of the sedimentary record, a point noted by Barrell as long ago as 1917 but largely ignored by subsequent workers. This incompleteness is one outcome of the fact that sedimentary processes operate at time scales ranging over time scales varying by twelve orders of magnitude. It has been proposed to systematize observations of this attribute of stratigraphic successions with the establishment and application of a system of Sedimentation Rate Scales. At the same time, new forms of data, including seismic geomorphology and concepts derived from experimental and numerical simulation are adding richness and depth to our understanding of the sedimentary record.

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