A Shallow-Basin Model for ‘Saline Giants’ Based on Isostasy-Driven Subsidence

  1. Gary Nichols,
  2. Ed Williams and
  3. Chris Paola
  1. Frank J. G. van den Belt and
  2. Poppe L. de Boer

Published Online: 30 MAR 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444304411.ch11

Sedimentary Processes, Environments and Basins: A Tribute to Peter Friend

Sedimentary Processes, Environments and Basins: A Tribute to Peter Friend

How to Cite

van den Belt, F. J. G. and de Boer, P. L. (2007) A Shallow-Basin Model for ‘Saline Giants’ Based on Isostasy-Driven Subsidence, in Sedimentary Processes, Environments and Basins: A Tribute to Peter Friend (eds G. Nichols, E. Williams and C. Paola), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444304411.ch11

Author Information

  1. University of Utrecht, Faculty of Earth Sciences, PO Box 80021, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 MAR 2009
  2. Published Print: 7 DEC 2007

Book Series:

  1. Special Publication Number 38 of the International Association of Sedimentologists

Book Series Editors:

  1. Ian Jarvis

Series Editor Information

  1. School of Earth Sciences & Geography, Centre for Earth & Environmental Science Research, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames KT1 2EE, UK

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781405179225

Online ISBN: 9781444304411



  • shallow-basin model for ‘saline giants’ based on isostasy-driven subsidence;
  • evaporite successions characterized by extraordinary thickness;
  • ‘saline giants’ formed in deep basins;
  • deep-basin origin of halite bodies;
  • deep-basin theory for saline giants;
  • isostatic compensation during evaporite deposition


The common assumption that ‘saline giants’ must have formed in deep basins and that their thickness reflects initial basin depth ignores the principle of isostasy. Due to the high density of anhydrite and high precipitation rates for evaporite minerals, isostatic compensation is much more important in evaporite than in non-evaporite settings. The main implication is that evaporite precipitation drives subsidence rather than the other way round, and that thick evaporite deposits require an initial basin depth much less than their final thickness. Once initiated, evaporite precipitation and consequent isostatic subsidence is a self-sustaining process that can result in kilometre-scale evaporite stratigraphy. Rapid isostatic compensation is facilitated by thin, fractured crust in extensional basins, which explains the typical occurrence of saline giants in such settings. It is shown that a shallow-basin origin in combination with rapid isostatic compensation can well explain the extreme thickness of saline giants as well as the commonly associated shallow-water sedimentary facies. Although there is no reason to exclude the possibility of a basin-wide dropdown of a few thousand metres as proposed for some saline giants, a desiccated deep basin is certainly not a requirement. An initially shallow basin that rapidly deepens by isostatic adjustment in response to the precipitation of evaporites eliminates the need for deep-basin desiccation, gigantic waterfalls, and repeated opening and closure of a connection to the world ocean, and makes the extreme thickness of saline giants less enigmatic.