Diverse products of near-surface sediment mobilization in an ancient eolianite: outcrop features of the early Jurassic Navajo Sandstone


Gerald Bryant, The University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada. E-mail: gbryant@dixie.edu


The Navajo Sandstone of the Colorado Plateau, USA, displays a wide range of soft-sediment deformation (SSD) features, including decametre-scale features that have not been found in any modern desert environment. Laboratory simulations and partial analogues from other depositional environments suggest that these features derived from episodic liquefaction and fluidization of unconsolidated dune deposits. Outcrop details at many locations preserve the effects of fluid-escape dynamics through porous, permeable, well-sorted sand, which was partitioned by subtle textural changes at depositional boundaries between successive dune deposits and, less commonly, by distinct lithofacies changes marking the interface between wet and dry depositional environments. Extreme deformation and turbulent sediment flow have effaced primary structures in some zones of deformation; but other sites preserve the ductile modification of primary structures. Some outcrops preserve evidence of dramatic alterations in topography and sedimentation patterns due to localized compaction and large, subsurface, sediment displacements. Particularly notable among these extraordinary features are those representing the foundering of active dunes, sediment eruptions, and the subsidence of interdune surfaces in the ancient erg. The distinctive patterns of deformation in the Navajo Sandstone, interpreted in the context of its primary sedimentary architecture, provide unique insights into environmental conditions in the region during the Early Jurassic. Widespread ductile deformation in the Navajo indicates extraordinarily wet conditions for an active dune environment. The truncation of successive deformation features by deflation surfaces establishes the episodic nature of deformation in the unit and also suggests climatic variability. The widespread, episodic occurrence of SSD features, viewed within the seismic context provided by palaeotectonic reconstructions, strongly suggests that earthquake triggering of localized liquefaction controlled the distribution of deformation in this unit.