Experimental soft-sediment deformation: structures formed by the liquefaction of unconsolidated sands and some ancient examples



The effects of liquefaction in saturated sand bodies under a variety of driving forces are described from shaking table experiments, and structures from the geological record are presented which are analogous to the experimental structures. The collapse of sloping heaps of cross-bedded sand under a gravitational body force generates low-angle, essentially uncontorted stratification. A basal zone of shearing may be present, with steepened and folded foresets. Stretching of foresets may be accommodated on normal faults, and bottomsets may be contorted into inclined folds. In natural systems the substrate may also liquefy, causing deformation driven by an unevenly distributed confining load. Stratification in the surface bedform is flattened, and stratification in the substratum contorted. Experiments failed to produce relative displacement at the interface between stacked sand bodies. Liquefaction of gravitationally unstable systems in sands generates load structures comparable to those from sand-mud systems. Recumbent-folded deformed cross-bedding is formed by current shear over a liquefied bed, as has been inferred from field and theoretical analyses. Shear of nonliquefied sand forms angular folds. Other deformation mechanisms, such as fluidization or seepage, may generate structures similar to all of these. Local water-escape structures driven by fluidization occur in the upper parts of some liquefied sand bodies. They include cusps, sand volcanoes and clastic dykes. Transient cavities formed in some experiments and seemed to be preserved as breached cusps. Although the experiments tried to isolate individual driving forces, driving forces may operate together, and there may be a continuum between deformation driven by water escape and deformation driven by loading. Different structures from those described here may form where liquefaction develops in a buried layer as opposed to at the sediment surface.