Stratigraphy, a branch of geology, is basically the study of rock layers and layering. It is primarily used in the study of sedimentary and layered volcanic rocks. The subject was essentially invented and first rigorously applied by William Smith in England in the 1790s and early 1800s. Smith, known as the Father of English Geology, created the first geologic map of England and first recognized the significance of strata or rock layering.
Stratigraphy includes two related subfields: lithologic and biologic stratigraphy or biostratigraphy.
Lithostratigraphy , or lithologic stratigraphy, is the most obvious. It deals with the physical lithologic or rock type change both vertically in layering or bedding of varying rock type and laterally reflecting changing environments of deposition, known as facies change. Key elements of stratigraphy involve understanding how certain geometric relationships between rock layers arise and what these geometries mean in terms of depositional environment. One of stratigraphy's basic concepts is codified in the Law of Superposition, which simply states that, in an undeformed stratigraphic sequence, the oldest strata occur at the base of the sequence.
Chemostratigraphy is based on the changes in the relative proportions of trace elements and isotopes within and between lithologic units. Carbon and oxygen isotope ratios vary with time and are used to map subtle changes in the paleoenvironment This has led to the specialized field of isotopic stratigraphy.
Cyclostratigraphy documents the often cyclic changes in the relative proportions of minerals, particularly carbonates, and fossil diversity with time, related to changes in palaeoclimates.
Biostratigraphy or paleontologic stratigraphy is based on fossil evidence in the rock layers. Strata from widespread locations containing the same fossil fauna and flora are correlatable in time. Biologic stratigraphy was based on William Smith's principle of faunal succession, which predated, and was one of the first and most powerful lines of evidence for, biological evolution. It provides strong evidence for formation (speciation) of and the extinction of species. The Geological timescale was developed during the 1800s based on the evidence of biologic stratigraphy and faunal succession. This timescale remained a relative scale until the development of radiometric dating, which gave it and the stratigraphy it was based on an absolute time framework, leading to the development of chronostratigraphy.
One important development is the Vail curve , which attempts to define a global historical sea-level curve according to inferences from world-wide stratigraphic patterns. Stratigraphy is also commonly used to delineate the nature and extent of hydrocarbon-bearing reservoir rocks, seals and traps in petroleum geology.
In the field of archaeology, soil stratigraphy is used to better understand the processes that form and protect archaeological sites. The law of superposition holds true, and this can help date finds or features from each context, as they can be placed in sequence and the dates interpolated. Phases of activity can also often be seen through stratigraphy, especially when a trench or feature is viewed in section (profile). As pits and other features can be dug down into earlier levels, not all material at the some absolute depth is necessarily of the same age, but close attention has to be paid to the archeological layers. The Harris-matrix is a tool to depict complex stratigraphic relations, as they are found, for example, in the contexts of urban archaeology.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 05:32:34
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13