Predicting bedforms and primary current stratification in cohesive mixtures of mud and sand

Jaco H. Baas, James L. Best, Jeff Peakall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The use of sedimentary structures as indicators of flow and sediment morphodynamics in ancient sediments lies at the very heart of sedimentology, and allows reconstruction of formative flow conditions generated in a wide range of grain sizes and sedimentary environments. However, the vast majority of past research has documented and detailed the range of bedforms generated in essentially cohesionless sediments that lack the presence of mud within the flow and within the sediment bed itself. Yet most sedimentary environments possess fine-grained sediments and recent work has shown how the presence of this fine sediment may substantially modify the fluid dynamics of such flows. It is increasingly evident that understanding the influence of mud, and the presence of cohesive forces, is essential to permit a fuller interpretation of many modern and ancient sedimentary successions. In this paper, the present state of knowledge on the stability of current- and wave-generated bedforms and their primary current stratification is reviewed, and a new extended bedform phase diagram is presented that summarizes the bedforms generated in mixtures of sand and mud under rapidly decelerated flows. This diagram provides a phase space using the variables of yield strength and grain mobility as the abscissa and ordinate axes, respectively, and defines the stability fields of a range of bedforms generated under flows that have modified fluid dynamics owing to the presence of suspended sediment within the flow. Our results also present unique data on a range of bedforms generated in such flows, whose recognition is essential to help interpret such deposits in the ancient sedimentary record, including the following: (1) heterolithic stratification, comprising alternating laminae or layers of sand and mud; (2) the preservation of low-amplitude bed-waves, large current ripples and bed scours with intrascour composite bedforms; (3) low-angle cross-lamination and long lenses and streaks of sand and mud formed by bed-waves; (4) complex stacking of reverse bedforms, mud layers and low-angle crosslamination on the upstream face of bed scours; (5) planar bedding comprising stacked mud-sand couplets. Furthermore, the results shown herein demonstrate that flow variability is not required to produce deposits consisting of interbedded sand and muds, and that the nature of flaser, wavy and lenticular bedding (sensu Reineck & Wunderlich 1968) may also need reconsideration in the deposits of such sediment-laden flows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-45
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of the Geological Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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