Abstract

Sandcracks, which are ubiquitous in Holocene eolian and beach backshore carbonate grainstone on Alligator Point, Cat Island, Bahamas, resemble polygonal mudcracks, but formed in ooid sand without muddy matrix. In experiments on Cat Island beach sand, sediment surfaces cracked polygonally in the absence of mud or biofilms while drying at room temperature due to contraction generated by capillary effects related to surface tension attraction of interstitial water. Gravitational collapse of irregular open pores and repacking of sand grains due to loss of cohesion between particles caused by evaporation of water enhance the cracking process and appearance of polygons by providing space for cracks to expand. The polygons are held together by any remaining capillary moisture and associated meniscus cement, which precipitates as the sand dries. Polygonal sandcracks can be preserved by rapid lithification of carbonate sand, but have been documented only rarely from other localities because their formation requires well-sorted, well-rounded spherical grains rather than those making up the more common, heterogeneous skeletal and peloidal sediment in carbonate settings. Interpretation of this primary sedimentary desiccation structure provides new insights into sedimentation and diagenesis of ooid-rich deposits and can aid in recognizing ancient subaerial exposure horizons.

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