The terrestrial sedimentary record provides a valuable archive of how ancient depositional systems responded to and recorded changes in Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, and geosphere. However, the record of these environmental changes in eolian sedimentary successions is poorly constrained and largely unquantified. Our study presents the first global-scale, quantitative investigation of the architecture of eolian systems through geological time via analysis of 55 case studies of eolian successions. Eolian deposits accumulating (1) under greenhouse conditions, (2) in the presence of vascular plants and grasses, and (3) in rapidly subsiding basins associated with the rifting of supercontinents are represented by significantly thicker eolian dune-set, sand-sheet, and interdune architectural elements. Pre-vegetation eolian systems are also associated with more frequent interactions with non-eolian environments. The interplay of these forcings has resulted in dune-set thicknesses that tend to be smallest and largest in Proterozoic and Mesozoic successions, respectively. In the Proterozoic, the absence of sediment-binding plant roots rendered eolian deposits susceptible to post-depositional wind deflation and reworking by fluvial systems, whereby highly mobile channels reworked contiguous eolian deposits. During the Mesozoic, humid greenhouse conditions (associated with relatively elevated water tables) and high rates of basin subsidence (associated with the breakup of Pangea) favored the rapid transfer of eolian sediment beneath the erosional baseline. The common presence of vegetation promoted accumulation of stabilizing eolian systems. These factors acted to limit post-depositional reworking. Eolian sedimentary deposits record a fingerprint of major environmental changes in Earth history: climate, continental configuration, tectonics, and land-plant evolution.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| November 22, 2021
Eolian stratigraphic record of environmental change through geological time
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
G.I.E. Cosgrove, L. Colombera, N.P. Mountney; Eolian stratigraphic record of environmental change through geological time. Geology 2021; doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/G49474.1
Download citation file: