Hummocky cross-stratification, tropical hurricanes, and intense winter storms



    1. department of Geology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8S 4M1
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      Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, U.S.A.


Most previous workers have inferred a storm origin for hummocky cross-stratification, which typically occurs in shallow-marine deposits. On the modern Earth, the only storms capable of profoundly affecting shallow-marine depositional environments are severe tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and mid-latitude winter wave cyclones (intense winter storms).

This paper examines the palaeogeographic distribution (including palaeolatitude and palaeogeographic setting) of 107 occurrences of hummocky cross-stratification, ranging in age from the Proterozoic to Recent. In each of these stratigraphic units, both palaeolatitude and palaeogeography are consistent with a direct storm influence (associated with the passage of hurricanes or winter storms directly over the site of deposition). This palaeogeographic evidence lends support to the inferred storm origin for hummocky cross-stratification; further, the distribution of the structure suggests that most occurrences (73%) were generated by tropical hurricanes, the remaining 27% being generated by intense mid-latitude winter storms. The preferential generation of hummocky cross-stratification by hurricanes is consistent with: (1) the known differences in the nature of the bottom flows generated by the two major storm types, and (2) the inferred nature of the flows which form hummocky cross-stratification. Hurricanes couple less effectively with the water column than do intense winter storms. Due to this ineffective coupling, hurricane-generated bottom flows tend to be oscillatory-or multidirectional-dominant, with only minor unidirectional components of motion. In contrast, intense winter storms generally do couple effectively with the water column, generating bottom flows which possess a dominant or significant unidirectional component. Most previous workers have suggested that hummocky cross-stratification forms under oscillatory- or multidirectional-dominant flow; thus, it is conceptually reasonable that the vast majority of ancient occurrences of hummocky cross-stratification were probably hurricane-generated, as suggested by the aforementioned palaeogeographic distribution.

The Proterozoic, Palaeozoic, Neogene, and Quaternary were times when global climate was similar to that of today. The distribution of hummocky cross-stratification deposited during these times suggests that both hurricanes and intense winter storms occupied latitudinal belts during these times which were essentially identical to those occupied by their modern counterparts.

The Mesozoic and Palaeogene were non-glacial times when global climate was much warmer than that of today. The distribution of hummocky cross-stratification deposited during this interval suggests that hurricanes occurred more frequently at higher latitudes during non-glacial times than they do at present. The possibility of a broadened hurricane belt during the Mesozoic and Palaeogene is consistent with climatic considerations. A limited number of Mesozoic and Palaeogene rock units containing hummocky cross-stratification were deposited in palaeogeographic settings that preclude a direct hurricane influence; these examples were deposited in the middle latitudes, suggesting that intense winter storms continued to form hummocky cross-stratification in the middle latitudes during these much warmer times.

Some previous workers have suggested that tsunamis may be capable of generating hummocky cross-stratification. The palaeogeographic distribution of the structure does not support an origin due to tsunamis.

Lacustrine examples of hummocky cross-stratification reported herein are the first known non-marine occurrences; they suggest that storm effects strongly influence the sedimentary record of some lakes.