Ancient Environments and the Interpretation of Geologic History

9780023371400: Ancient Environments and the Interpretation of Geologic History

This manual presents the knowledge and skills used by geologists to interpret the earth's ancient environments and reconstruct geologic history. It integrates and incorporates the theoretical models and analysis of empirical data that will provide readers with a holistic understanding of these challenging tasks. It contains an introduction to rocks, tectonics, and ancient environments; a look at igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks; material on depositional environments and the evolution of sedimentary rocks; an interpretation of geologic history from facies maps; emphasis on tectonic and sequence theories; and much more. For individuals interested in historical geology.

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From the Inside Flap:


The plate tectonic revolution in geology completely changed the way we look at the earth, and its implications reverberated throughout the earth sciences. The layperson or novice, however, might be inclined to think that with the plate tectonic revolution, geology had reached a culmination of understanding and that nothing significantly new was left to be discovered. How untrue that is.

To someone inside the earth science disciplines, continuous change and startling discoveries continue to roll out of the fertile minds of the scientists. In the academic realm, this shows up most pointedly in our continuous struggle to decide what and how to teach. When I look back over my class notebooks, I am struck by the amount of change that has taken place in the past decade. Whole bodies of notes have been abandoned, and new ones written. And the subjects and emphases continue to shift almost every time I teach a course.

Most of us who teach have been caught in this struggle of content and balance, and we solve it in a variety of ways. One end of the spectrum of solutions is to decide that older knowledge and skills are no longer germane, and drastically reduce, or just abandon them in favor of the new knowledge and skills. Another end to the solution spectrum is to add new courses that explore the new realms in detail. This later solution also shows up in the proliferation of books that divide and subdivide our subjects. Where we used to simply have stratigraphy, sedimentation, and sedimentary petrology, we now have such additional topics as fluvial geomorphology, sequence theory, and basin analysis. Additionally, the size of the books on these subjects, the depth of their exploration, and the lengths of their bibliographies make it clear that this new knowledge is neither trivial, nor insignificant.

One thing that does become clear, though, for those of us who must struggle to introduce an entire discipline in one or two courses, especially to undergraduates, is that little of the knowledge, new or old, can be completely ignored. Students need a firm grounding in the essentials of the discipline, and yet must also be conversant in its newest insights. Furthermore, they must understand not only how all this knowledge is integrated into a coherent understanding of the specific discipline, but also how it integrates with other areas of the earth sciences. We are, in spite of our increasing sub-specializations, becoming more interdisciplinary too.

We had all these issues in mind in the preparation of the third edition of Ancient Environments and the Interpretation of Geologic History. It was very important to retain all the fundamental knowledge, the tools and skills that lie behind the interpretation of sedimentary rocks and ancient environments, and for this reason, much of the core knowledge and skills in the second edition are present in this edition with only minor modifications. We want to prepare students so that they can go into the field, and beginning with knowledge gained from the outcrop, identify and interpret individual rocks, and put them into theoretical contexts. Where changes have been made, they have been made to overcome the weaknesses and shortcomings classroom experience found in the last edition.

But we also want to specifically do two additional things in the third edition. First, more thoroughly integrate the knowledge on rock identification and interpretation with tectonics and basin analysis, and, second, incorporate theoretical concepts and exercises on the effects of eustatic changes and sequence theory on the stratigraphic record.

The most obvious changes in the tectonic realm are found in the new chapters "Preliminary to Sedimentary Tectonics—Part B—The Wilson Cycle" and "A Plate Tectonic Rock Cycle." These chapters take each of the stages in the Wilson Cycle introduced in the first chapter, and expand on and explore the processes operating, and the rocks and structures resulting. It is a more theoretical approach to basin analysis, whose details are explored in later exercises.

Eustasy and sequence theory are explored in the new chapters "Preliminary to Eustasy, Tectonic Subsidence, and Sequence Theory," and "Relative Sea Level Curves and Parasequence Interpretation." Eustasy, or more specifically relative sea level changes, obviously has a considerable impact on the geologic record, but sequence theory tends to be large, unwieldy, and controversial. We have tried to steer a middle course, introducing and exploring basic concepts, and some of the ways they impact interpretation of geologic history both on the outcrop and in a basin, without delving too deeply into their complications. We are confident, however, that the theoretical background and exercises will give the student a solid foundation in eustasy and sequence theory from which they can explore more depth and details with confidence. Wherever possible, however, both the new tectonic and eustatic concepts have been applied to and integrated with the other chapters and exercises.

We are aware that there are more exercises in this book than can be covered in a one semester historical geology laboratory, where we use it. Also, many of the laboratories contain more exercises than can be reasonably finished in one two hour period. We hope, however, that the variety of exercises provide the instructor with a wide selection of concepts and approaches to interpreting ancient environments and the interpretation of geologic history, and lay foundations for work in upper level courses. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The students always come first. After all, this is for them. If it had not been for the now close to three decades of students who have questioned us, challenged us, corrected us, taught us, and hungered for more Á this book would not be. Their thirst to learn, and enthusiasm for understanding the sometimes complex and difficult subjects necessary to interpret earth history in a modern context have always been an inspiration.

We are also grateful to Bob McConnin, our Macmillan editor, now retired, who shepherded this book through its earlier editions, and encouraged and supported this third edition. We also thank Patrick Lynch, our current Prentice Hall editor, who picked up where Bob left off, and has been helpful, resourceful, and ever so patient.

Special thanks to Joanne Hakim, our production editor at Prentice Hall. When Joanne first introduced herself, she said that she was going to be our personal slave driver for the next six months. Well, that has been true, and it has also been a pleasure. Thank you Joanne, for expertly guiding this through its many steps, and always understanding, yet never giving up on us during the numerous delays and frustrations.

Finally, we would like to extend our thanks to the reviewers of the second edition, whose comments have helped to refine the material.

John D. Cooper, California State University, Fullerton
Allan M. Thompson, University of Delaware
Richard D. Conway, Shoreline Community College

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