Rivers that existed before land plants colonized the Earth are commonly considered to be unaffected by microbial activity on their floodplains, because the limited cementation produced by microbial activity is insufficient to stabilize the river banks. Although this assumption is likely correct, such emphasis on channel dynamics ignores the potential role of floodplain dynamics as an integral component of the river system. Detailed analysis of cores from the Cambrian Mount Simon Sandstone, Illinois, suggests that a significant proportion of the terrestrial sequence is composed of flat-bedded 'crinkly' structures that provide evidence of cementation by soil crusts and microbial biofilms, and that promoted the adhesion of sediment to sticky surfaces. Wind ripples and local desert pavements were abundant. These findings highlight that sediment deposition on Cambrian floodplains was often dominated by wind in locations where the ground water table reached the surface, and was thus likely independent of sediment transport within the river channel. Erosion by wind would thus have been hindered by surface cementation and the formation of desert pavements. Such ground water control on deposition, and resistance to erosion by floodplain surface hardening, appear to have been the primary controls on Cambrian floodplain topography. Because floodplain topography poses a key control on channel and floodplain flow, these processes may have affected patterns of erosion and deposition, as well as reach-scale dynamics such as channel avulsions. The autonomous operation of wind-and-groundwater controlled floodplains makes pre-vegetated river systems more sensitive to climatic conditions such as precipitation and evaporation, and strikingly different from those that occurred after the development of land plants.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Title of host publication||AGU 2016 fall meeting|
|State||Published - 2016|