Facies And Facies Sequences


Facies is a body of rock with specific characteristics. It is properly defined on the basis of color, bedding, composition, texture, fossils, and sedimentary structures. However, the term “facies” is also used in many other senses. 

It is used as a strict observational sense of a rock product (sandstone facies), in a genetic sense for the products of a process by which a rock is thought to have formed (turbidite facies), in an environmental sense for the environment in which a rock is thought to have formed (fluvial facies), and as a tecto-facies (post-orogenic facies). All these uses are acceptable, as long as you remember which concept is being used.

Facies distributions and changes are dependant on a number of interrelated influences, which include:

  • Sedimentary Processes
  • Sediment supply
  • Climate
  • Tectonics
  • Sea Level changes
  • Biological Activity
  • Water Chemistry
  • Volcanism

Facies And Facies Sequences
Facies And Facies Sequences

Facies Sequence

A facies sequence is a series of facies that pass gradually from one into another. A sequence can have an abrupt or erosive boundary, or be bounded by a hiatus, as indicated by a rootlet bed, reworking, or early diagenesis.

 Clastic environments have two important types of sequences. In one, there is a coarsening upward sequence that develops above a sharp or erosional base; a second type is the fining upward sequence. This is important in interpretation of depositional environments, because grain size is normally a measure of the hydraulic power at the time of deposition and a coarsening upward sequence indicates an increase in flow power. 

 This may be due to shallowing as a delta, shoreline, or river crevasse builds out into deeper water, or to progradation of a submarine fan. Fining upward sequences can be formed by a migrating point bar in a river or by filling of an abandoned channel.

Walther's Law

Walther's Law, named after German geologist Johannes Walther (1860-1937), is a fundamental principle that relates the vertical sequence of sedimentary facies to the lateral distribution of depositional environments.

Walther's Law states that “the various deposits of the same facies area and, similarly, the sum of the rocks of different facies areas were formed beside each other in space, but in a crustal profile we see them lying on top of each other...it is a basic statement of far-reaching significance that only those facies and facies areas can be superimposed, without a break, that can be observed beside each other at the present time.”

This is interpreted to mean that facies occurring in a conformable vertical sequence were formed in aerially adjacent environments and the facies in vertical contact must be the product of neighboring environments.

The Essence of Walther's Law:

Walther's Law proposes that the vertical sequence of facies in a rock column will mirror the lateral distribution of depositional environments that existed when the sediments were deposited.

In simpler terms:

If you see a sequence of rock layers changing from sandstone (beach) to shale (deep sea) as you go up the column, it suggests that the shoreline gradually moved out (transgression) over time, submerging the former beach under deeper water.

Why is Walther's Law Important?

Walther's Law is a powerful tool for geologists because it allows them to:

Predict facies changes: By understanding the relationship between vertical and lateral facies distribution, geologists can predict what kind of rock layers they might encounter by drilling deeper or exploring laterally.

Reconstruct ancient environments: By analyzing the sequence of facies, geologists can reconstruct the sequence of past depositional environments, piecing together the history of a landscape.

Interpret sedimentary basins: Walther's Law helps geologists understand the processes that formed sedimentary basins, such as the movement of tectonic plates and changes in sea level.

Limitations of Walther's Law:

Incomplete Record: The rock record may not always be perfectly preserved, and some layers might be missing.

Tectonic Uplift and Erosion: Geological processes can disrupt the original layering, making it challenging to interpret the vertical sequence.

Despite these limitations, Walther's Law remains a cornerstone principle in sedimentary geology, providing a valuable framework for understanding the formation and interpretation of sedimentary rocks.

See also:

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