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Eustatic and climatic controls on the development of the Wahiba Sand Sea, Sultanate of Oman

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Abstract

Aeolian sand sea accumulations can serve as valuable archives of climate change in continental environments. The Wahiba Sand Sea is situated at the northern margin of the area presently affected by Indian Summer Monsoon Circulation and it records environmental changes associated with this major climatic boundary over the last 160 000 years. The internal stratigraphy and evolution of the sand sea is investigated using a combination of outcrop, borehole, seismic and luminescence data. Proximity to the Indian Ocean means that the sand sea succession shows the influence of sea level changes on the sedimentary architecture and composition of the dune deposits. During the last two glacial periods, low global sea level was associated with a high input of bioclastic grains, reflecting the significance of subaerially exposed shelf areas as one of the main sources of aeolian sediment. The onset of aeolian sediment transport and deposition was related to the breakdown of stabilizing vegetation during arid periods that equate with sea level lowstands. The preservation of aeolian sediments by the formation of supersurfaces and associated palaeosoils took place during times of increased wetness and elevated groundwater tables. This interplay of constructive and destructive periods greatly influenced the sedimentary architecture. Oscillations of wet and dry periods between 160 000 and 130 000 years and 120 000–105 000 years ago are attributed to the evolution of a wet aeolian system. Younger periods of aeolian deposition around and after the last glacial maximum were characterized by dry aeolian conditions. No soil horizons developed during these times.

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