Stratigraphy has been a descriptive science for most of its history. Recently, thanks to the development of the mechanistic view of Earth embodied in plate tectonics and to improvements in our understanding of sediment dynamics, the stratigraphic community has developed a first generation of quantitative models for the filling of basins and the formation of stratigraphic patterns. How do we test such models? The field is the ultimate repository of information, but exposure is limited, and it is often difficult to constrain key governing variables independently. We have developed a novel experimental basin - nicknamed Jurassic Tank - that allows us to produce experimental stratigraphy under precisely controlled and monitored conditions of sediment supply, subsidence, base-level variation, and transport mechanics. The unique feature of the basin is a fully programmable subsiding floor. In the first application of the system, we looked for evidence of decoupling (out-of-phase behavior) between shoreline and base level, as has been predicted by some recent stratigraphic models. We found little support for this idea, but the results demonstrate the potential that experiments have for complementing field and theoretical studies of the filling of sedimentary basins.
Paola, C; Mullin, J; Ellis, C; Mohrig, DC; Swenson, JB; Parker, G; Hickson, T; Heller, PL; Pratson, L; Syvitski, J; Sheets, B; Strong, N
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