Recognition of ancient carbonate wind deposits: lessons from a modern analogue, Chrissi Island, Crete



Carbonate aeolian deposits are common along arid to semiarid, wind-exposed, present-day coastlines bordered by productive carbonate ramps. Lithified carbonate dunes (aeolianites) have been described around the world in marine terraces of Quaternary age, but these deposits have seldom been identified in the Pre-Quaternary record. Several authors have suggested that this scarcity reflects that these deposits form and are preserved only during icehouse periods characterized by high-amplitude sea-level changes. Others [e.g. McKee and Ward Carbonate Depositional Environments (1983), AAPG Memoirs, Vol. 33, pp. 131–170] suggest that the scarcity of aeolianites in the Pre-Quaternary record could reflect the ‘great difficulty in recognising wind blown carbonate deposits and in differentiating between them [aeolianites] and other carbonate sands of nearshore environments’. It has been considered that carbonate shoreface/foreshore deposits are very difficult to discriminate petrographically from backshore deposits. This petrographic study of recent sediments from the shoreface to backshore along the northern coast of Chrissi Island, Crete, confirms that carbonate aeolian sands can be very easily misinterpreted as shoreface deposits. Textural examination of thin sections by image analysis techniques indicates, however, that grain orientation patterns differ between facies. Shoreface deposits exhibit a unimodal distribution of grain orientation (flat rose diagram), whereas backshore deposits show a tendency towards a bimodal distribution with a significant proportion of vertical grains. This observation has been confirmed in Pleistocene aeolianites from Tunisia and Western Australia. Grain verticality thus seems to be a reliable criterion for discriminating wind-lain carbonate bodies from shoreface deposits. Vertical grains in aeolian carbonate deposits could reflect gravity effects (e.g. reorientation of grains because of meteoric water percolation and air pull-up). Laboratory experiments conducted on carbonate sands under the action of percolating waters confirm this hypothesis. This reorganization process is preferentially developed in recently deposited and loosely packed sands resulting from grainfall and/or grainflow. In addition, this suggests that the presence of vertical grain orientation might be an indicator of the frequency and intensity of rainfalls during deposition.