Preservation of forcing signals in shallow water carbonate sediments

Jon Hill, Rachel Wood, Andrew Curtis, Daniel M. Tetzlaff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


No consensus has been reached on whether the metre-scale cycles that commonly occur in peritidal carbonates are predominately a product of external relative sea-level variations (allocycles) or an intrinsic property of carbonate production generated via the interaction of non-linear processes (autocycles). For any forcing signal such as eustatic sea-level change, to be detectable in stratigraphy its effects must be preserved. Here, a deterministic, three-dimensional geological process model is used to explore how such cycles are preserved in the geological record in the presence of autocyclic processes. Each simulation produced cycle thickness distributions that are statistically indistinguishable from a theoretical Poisson process, regardless of whether auto- or allo-cycles dominated. Spectral analysis of depositional time series constructed from idealised geological sections showed that all detectable signals occurred within the Milankovitch forcing frequency bands, even when no Milankovitch forcing was present. Thus, it is deduced that from any geological section alone, external forcing signals are detectable but are not distinguishable from autocyclically produced signals. Interestingly, there is no correlation between the percentage of sediment preserved and the accuracy with which signals are detectable in the preserved sediment: in some model realisations, even with preservation as low as 40 the correct forcing signal can be detected accurately while, conversely, sections with preservation as high as 90% can have poor signal preservation. The reverse can also be true in other models. It is therefore concluded that distinguishing allocyclic and autocyclic forcing in shallow marine or peritidal carbonate successions is likely to be extremely difficult except in cases of extraordinary sedimentary preservation and dating accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-92
Number of pages14
JournalSedimentary geology
Early online date31 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012


  • Carbonate sedimentation
  • Cyclicity
  • Forward modelling
  • Preservation
  • Spectral analysis

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