Eolian Soft-Sediment Deformation Records on Earth and Mars

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Marjorie A Chan, Univ Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, United States, Chris H Okubo, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ, United States and Ronald L Bruhn, Univ Utah, Hansville, WA, United States
Eolian (wind-blown) dune deposits are widespread on Earth and Mars, with soft-sediment deformation preserved in cross-bedded sandstone deposits comprising important records of past environmental conditions. Exceptional 3-D exposures of the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument of northern Arizona, contain distinctive intervals of decameter- scale soft-sediment contortions, up-turned dune sets, brittle strain, massive layers with breccia blocks, and associated geomorphic mounds. Both field studies and remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (airplane or kite) images respectively provide “ground truth” and “bird’s-eye” perspectives of the deformation. The nature of the continuous folds within stratigraphically constrained beds indicates confining layers breached by rapid fluid expulsion, strain softening, and cataclastic flow of partially lithified sandstone under water-saturated conditions (i.e., a relatively high-water table), consistent with theoretical and laboratory studies of deformation in saturated sand. Loose grain packing and high porosity and permeability in eolian sands allow for water-filled pores, which are conducive for soft-sediment deformation. The likely driver for this observed deformation was liquefaction-induced ground failure from strong ground motion, such as long-duration surface waves of a large earthquake.

These eolian examples preserve complex geologic stories and serve as paleoenvironmental records. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) HiRISE images of exposed layer contortions and soft-sediment deformation in Candor Chasma are remarkably similar to the Jurassic examples. The Jurassic analog examples provide baseline criteria to help interpret high-water table conditions and subsequent strong ground motion in the late Hesperian to early Amazonian sediments on the floor of Candor Chasma and other chasmata of Valles Marineris.