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Paleohydrologic controls on soft-sediment deformation in the Navajo Sandstone

Bryant, Gerald, Cushman, Robert, Nick, Kevin, Miall, Andrew
Sedimentary geology 2016 v.344 pp. 205-221
climatic factors, deflation, deformation, humid zones, liquefaction, models, sand, sandstone, saturated conditions, water table
Many workers have noted the presence of contorted cross-strata in the Navajo Sandstone and other ancient eolianites, and have recognized their significance as indicators of sediment saturation during the accumulation history. Horowitz (1982) proposed a general model for the production of such features in ancient ergs by episodic, seismically induced liquefaction of accumulated sand. A key feature of that popular model is the prevalence of a flat water table, characteristic of a hyper-arid climatic regime, during deformation. Under arid climatic conditions, the water table is established by regional flow and liquefaction is limited to the saturated regions below the level of interdune troughs. However, various paleohydrological indicators from Navajo Sandstone outcrops point toward a broader range of water table configurations during the deformation history of that eolianite.Some outcrops reveal extensive deformation complexes that do not appear to have extended to the contemporary depositional surface. These km-scale zones of deformation, affecting multiple sets of cross-strata, and grading upward into undeformed crossbeds may represent deep water table conditions, coupled with high intensity triggers, which produced exclusively intrastratal deformation. Such occurrences contrast with smaller-scale complexes formed within the zone of interaction between the products of soft-sediment deformation and surface processes of deposition and erosion. The Horowitz model targets the smaller-scale deformation morphologies produced in this near-surface environment.This study examines the implications of a wet climatic regime for the Horowitz deformation model. It demonstrates how a contoured water table, characteristic of humid climates, may have facilitated deformation within active bedforms, as well as in the accumulation. Intra-dune deformation would enable deflation of deformation features during the normal course of dune migration, more parsimoniously accounting for: the frequent occurrence of erosionally truncated deformation structures in the Navajo Sandstone; the production of such erosional truncations during bedform climb and aggradation of the accumulation; and the dramatic fluctuations in the water table required to deposit dry eolian sand, deform those deposits under saturated conditions, and then dry the deformed sand to enable deflation.