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Time-scale uncertainty of abrupt events in the geologic record arising from unsteady sedimentation

David B. Kemp and Philip F. Sexton
Time-scale uncertainty of abrupt events in the geologic record arising from unsteady sedimentation
Geology (Boulder) (October 2014) 42 (10): 891-894


Defining the time scale of abrupt events in the stratigraphic record is a primary goal of high-resolution paleoclimate analysis. A significant hurdle in this endeavor is that abrupt, i.e., millennial and submillennial, events in deep time can rarely be temporally constrained accurately owing to the typical absence of high-precision age control at the scale of the events. Instead, the duration of abrupt events is commonly estimated via the linear partitioning of time between age control points (e.g., defined using astronomical cycles or radiometric dates) that bracket the event and span longer time intervals. The flaw with this approach is that sedimentation is an unsteady process and does not proceed linearly with time. Here a numerical model, parameterized by geologic data, is used to quantify theoretical time-scale uncertainties that result from unsteady sedimentation. This work demonstrates that the duration of assumed millennial events estimated via a linear partitioning approach may be significantly in error, even in complete, astronomically calibrated and unbioturbated successions best suited to the study of abrupt paleoclimate change. The uncertainties established in this study are largely a function of the precise statistical properties of the sedimentation process, properties that are difficult to constrain empirically, particularly over short time spans. Nevertheless, this study illustrates how unsteady sedimentation sets an important limit on the attainable temporal resolution of the stratigraphic record, with consequent implications for defining accurately the rates and durations of rapid events in Earth history.

ISSN: 0091-7613
EISSN: 1943-2682
Serial Title: Geology (Boulder)
Serial Volume: 42
Serial Issue: 10
Title: Time-scale uncertainty of abrupt events in the geologic record arising from unsteady sedimentation
Affiliation: Open University, Environment, Earth and Ecosystems, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Pages: 891-894
Published: 201410
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States
References: 20
Accession Number: 2014-082860
Categories: Stratigraphy
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Annotation: GSA Data Repository item 2014315
Illustration Description: illus.
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2017, American Geosciences Institute. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States. Reference includes data supplied by the Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO, United States
Update Code: 201443
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