Extensive soft-sediment deformation (SSD) of multiple expressions and scales record active and dynamic events and processes in erg deposits of the Lower Jurassic Navajo Sandstone near Moab, Utah. The erg deposits preserve depositional environments of eolian dune, interdune, fluvial, playa, lake, and spring. A large range of SSD features, from intact beds showing little deformation to pervasively disturbed beds, exist in many of these deposits. A simplified classification index captures the different scales of SSD in ascending order of deformation intensity: 1) mostly intact bedding with small-scale wavy or undulatory deformation structures within single beds; 2) dish and flame structures; 3) meter-scale, kinked, slumped, rolled, overturned, vertical, and detached contorted crossbedding, and associated centimeter- to meter-scale pipes; and 4) disruptive diapirs and laterally extensive massive sandstone. The SSD features of deformed crossbed sets, diapirs, and massive sandstone beds, are consistently juxtaposed, and are thus genetically linked.
Although the Navajo Sandstone has been considered a classic example of an extensive dry eolian system, both individual and combinations of strata bounded SSD features exemplify dynamic deformation, liquefaction, and fluidization that took place at various times after deposition. The lowest degree of deformation, SSD 1, is largely attributed to autogenic––inherent to the eolian system––or local allogenic processes. Larger degrees of deformation, SSD 2–4, were more likely produced by allogenic, external-forcing processes from regional changes in climate and/or near-surface groundwater conditions originating from the Uncompahgre uplift, with the deformation triggered by some event(s). Possible significant ground motion could have led to large-scale disruption in the Navajo sand sea across kilometer-scale intervals. The Navajo example establishes valuable hierarchical relationships of processes and products for recognizing and interpreting SSD in other ancient and modern eolian systems. This has particular relevance to sedimentary discoveries on Mars, where SSD features are visible from remote sensing imagery and rover exploration.