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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

Stratigraphic cross-sections are used to show stratigraphic relationships of strata along


some path. They differ from structural cross-sections in three ways.
First, their goals differ. Stratigraphic cross-sections are meant to convey the depositional
relationships of the units, as close to the time of deposition as possible. Structural cross-
sections are meant to portray present-day structural relationships, such as faults and
folds.
Second, they differ in their datum, the horizontal surface on which the columns are
hung. Stratigraphic cross-sections use some surface thought to represent a moment in
time as a datum. In contrast, structural cross-sections use present-day elevation as a da-
tum. Because stratigraphic cross-sections use a surface that approximates a time line as a
datum, rocks of equal age lie approximately along a horizontal line. This approximation
weakens with distance from a datum, such that time lines far from a datum may be sub-
stantially inclined. Common surfaces used as a stratigraphic datum include volcanic ash
beds (bentonites) and other event beds, as well as some types of disconformities, such as
flooding surfaces, which are recognized as sharp contacts at which deeper water facies
abruptly overlie shallower water facies.
Third, most stratigraphic cross-sections have a substantial amount of vertical exaggera-
tion because this allows detailed stratigraphic relationships to be seen over great dis-
tances. Structural cross-sections avoid vertical exaggeration, because it distorts structural
relationships, such as perception of dip.
Strike lines and dip lines
To interpret a stratigraphic cross-section, it is essential to understand the orientation of
the line of the cross-section at the time of deposition.
On a dip line, the path of the cross-section is more or less parallel to depositional dip;
that is, the cross-section passes from relatively landward at one end to relatively seaward
at the opposite end. Dip lines are often the most useful in that they portray the greatest
amount of regional variation in the stratigraphy.
A strike line is nearly parallel to depositional strike, that is, parallel to the regional deposi-
tional coastline. Strike lines often display the least amount of stratigraphic variation lat-
erally, because all points along the cross-section were at essentially the same water depth.
Strike lines can be useful for displaying along-shore facies variations, such as transitions
from deltas to strand plains. Strike lines are especially useful for detecting incised valleys,
because the along-shore variations in the amount of erosion can be quite pronounced.
An oblique line is any line that contains substantial components of both along-coast and
across-coast facies variation. If possible, oblique lines should be avoided in favor of
cross-sections that isolate facies variations along depositional strike and depositional dip.

Sedimentary Geology
Stratigraphic Cross-Section

Types of contacts
Three types of contacts can be found on a stratigraphic cross-section, and it is important
to distinguish these in a key, as they are critical to the interpretation of the stratigraphic
relationships.
Sharp contacts represent abrupt contacts of unrelated facies, typically representing sur-
faces that separate facies that are not joined by Walther’s Law. One of the most common
types of sharp contact is a flooding surface, a sharp surface across which deeper-water
facies abruptly overlie shallower-water facies. Sharp contacts may have local erosion, but
generally do not display substantial erosional relief, that is laterally varying depths of ero-
sion. Sharp contacts are typically drawn with a solid, straight line.
Facies contacts are contacts between two facies joined through Walther’s Law. Facies de-
scriptions will commonly report such contacts by describing them as gradational. For
example, if Facies 1 is described as passing gradationally upwards into Facies 2, then
such a contact should be treated as a facies contact conforming to Walther’s Law. Facies
contacts are commonly drawn with a zig-zag line, often called a “shazam” line.
Erosional contacts are contacts where a strongly erosional surface separates an overlying
and underlying facies. Facies descriptions are often the best clue that the base of a par
ticular surface is erosional. Erosional contacts are usually drawn with a wavy line.

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

Presentation
Stratigraphic cross-sections are presented in many different ways. One common ap-
proach (shown above) is to show each stratigraphic column as a narrow vertical strip,
with contacts correlated between these strip. The advantage of this approach is that it
emphasizes the data, that is, the succession of rocks observed in each exposure. The dis-
advantage is that the columns are much narrower in reality than the horizontal scale
would suggest. This style is also difficult to display when there are many stratigraphic
columns, unless the cross-section is made substantially wider. Note in the example below
the features that should be in all cross-sections: a key to facies and surfaces, graphical
vertical and horizontal scales, compass directions at the ends of the cross-section that
describe its orientation, and the labeled direction of depositional dip (if the cross-section
is a dip line).
Another approach is to portray the individual columns as vertical lines, which has the
advantage of not exaggerating their width (shown below). Color is used in this cross-sec-
tion, and color is generally far better for portraying stratigraphic relationships than black
and white symbols. Again, notice in this example the key, the labeling of column names
across the top, horizontal and vertical graphical scales, and compass directions at the
ends of the cross-sections.

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

Common correlation examples


Correlation is done by connecting equivalent contacts in adjacent columns, or by infer-
ring those contacts between adjacent columns. It is important to remember that correla-
tion is a tracing of contacts between facies, not the tracing of the facies themselves. Sev-
eral common scenarios typically arise:
(1) In many cases, the same contact between facies is found at roughly the same strati-
graphic position in adjacent columns. In most cases, correlating that contact will be the
correct correlation.

(2) In some cases, a sharp contact will be found in adjacent columns at roughly the same
position, but the facies above (or below) that contact will differ in the two columns. A
good starting point in this case is to correlate the sharp contact, and draw a facies con-
tact between the two columns with different facies such that the facies contact intersects
the sharp contact between the columns. In other words, one of the facies is said to pinch
out between the columns. The pinch-out should not be drawn exactly at one of the col-
umns, but should be made somewhere between the two columns.

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

(3) Erosional contacts can strongly truncate underlying strata. If a series of strata in one
column are at roughly the same elevation as strata overlying an erosional surface in an
adjacent column, contacts from the first column should be extended roughly horizontal
ly, where they can be truncated by the erosional surface.

(4) Sometimes, a thin stratigraphic unit may be present in one column but not the adja-
cent column at the same position. It is possible that the unit is actually present in all col-
umns, but simply overlooked in some columns. In that case, the contacts should be ex-
tended with dashed lines through the columns where the unit is absent. It is also possible
that the unit pinches out between the columns and the contacts can be drawn this way.

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

Correlation guidelines
Because the datum is chosen at a surface that approximates a time line, other such time
lines ought to be relatively flat. For example, sharp contacts and facies contacts should
be relatively flat. For reasons we will discuss later, sharp contacts may dip slightly sea-
ward, but they should not dip landwards or steeply seawards.
Shallow-water facies should pinch out downdip and deeper-water facies should pinch out
updip. This requires knowing your facies and first establishing whether the cross-section
is a strike line or a dip line, and if it is a dip line, which way is landward and which way is
seaward. The pinch-out of a facies should always be indicated between two columns,
never immediately at or adjacent to a column, because it is unlikely that a facies would
pinch out immediately next to where a column was measured.
Correlation is a prediction of what is present between two columns. Be sure that what
you predict is both possible and likely in a geological sense. This will require you to think
about your units as depositional environments, not just bodies of rock. To avoid this
trap, be sure to label your rock units with the name of the depositional environment that
they represent and not with some arbitrary label like Facies A.
Procedure
The first step in constructing a cross-section is to build the framework. Begin by drawing
a long horizontal line that will represent your datum. Next, start at one end and add tick
marks to this datum that correspond to the scaled distances between the vertical col-
umns. For each column, draw a vertical line perpendicular to the datum, and mark off
properly scaled ticks that correspond to the thicknesses of the stratigraphic units. Adja-
cent to each interval, lightly label the facies name in pencil.
The next step is correlating the stratigraphic contacts between the exposures. This is the
hardest part, and it will require substantial thought and geological intuition. Contacts
should be drawn according to whether they are sharp, facies, or erosional. Draw your
contacts in pencil, as you will rethink and revise your correlations. To make revisions eas-
ier, many people photocopy their finished framework and work out their correlations in
pencil on the photocopy, so that it is easy to erase any false starts. When you are satisfied
with your cross-section, ink it in and erase any pencil lines or labels.
Finally, color your facies. Add a key for the facies and a key for contact types. Add labels
above the columns. Add compass labels to the ends of the cross-section; these should be
from opposite ends of a compass, such as northwest and southeast. Add a graphical ver-
tical scale and horizontal scale, with ticks in even increments. Add numerical scales next
to your graphical scales, such as 1 cm = 5 km. If the cross-section is a dip line, write the
words “Depositional Dip” at the top, with an arrow pointing in the downdip direction.

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

What to do
In this lab, you will construct a regional cross-section based on the facies descriptions
presented in the environmental interpretation lab last week. The thicknesses of those
facies are listed below.
Vertical scale: 1 centimeter = 10 meters.
Horizontal scale: 1 centimeter = 4 kilometers.
To fit the cross-section, you will need to use one sheet of 8.5x14 paper.
Your cross-section should be neatly and professionally done. Although you can use
computer drawing programs like Illustrator, I recommend doing this lab by hand unless
you are already proficient with these programs. Lines should be neatly drawn; in particular,
do not make your facies contacts too exaggerated. Lines and text should be inked neatly
in black, and the lettering should be neatly done. When coloring your facies, you will get
the best results if you color lightly and in one direction with good colored pencils.
Indicate on the top of the page whether this a strike line or a dip line, and if it is a dip
line, indicate which direction is seaward.
When you are finished, make a photocopy of your cross-section. Turn in the original,
and keep the photocopy - you will need it for the next lab exercise.
The data
Listed below are the measured columns that lie along the cross-section. The distance of
each column from the previous column is listed after its name. Below this, each line indi-
cates the thickness of a facies given in the previous lab, and the descriptions are given in
the order that they were measured. In other words, the first line corresponds to the low-
est unit, the second line is the next highest unit, and so on. Make sure that you do not get
your sections upside-down!
Where possible, use the top of the uppermost body of Facies A or B as the datum.
Where these facies are not present, use the top of the uppermost body of Facies D or F
as the datum.

Column 1, northwestern-most column


28.9 meters of Facies E
4.9 meters of Facies D
10.7 meters of Facies E
11.4 meters of Facies D
12.1 meters of Facies D, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

5.0 meters of Facies C


17.6 meters of Facies A
39.6 meters of Facies A
5.0 meters of Facies E
2.6 meters of Facies D
8.2 meters of Facies E
2.0 meters of Facies D
4.4 meters of Facies E
0.8 meters of Facies D
12.9 meters of Facies E

Column 2, 9.6 km southeast of Column 1


31.5 meters of Facies E
14.4 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
7.9 meters of Facies D
0.9 meters of Facies E
15.4 meters of Facies D
21.6 meters of Facies B
37.7 meters of Facies B
5.3 meters of Facies E
2.2 meters of Facies D
8.7 meters of Facies E
1.4 meters of Facies D
17.2 meters of Facies E

Column 3, 11.1 km southeast of Column 2


27.5 meters of Facies E
21.2 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
2.3 meters of Facies D

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

4.2 meters of Facies E


13.5 meters of Facies D
3.0 meters of Facies D, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
1.9 meters of Facies C
13.1 meters of Facies B
41.7 meters of Facies B
5.9 meters of Facies E
1.7 meters of Facies D
9.3 meters of Facies E
0.9 meters of Facies D
15.8 meters of Facies E

Column 4, 14.7 km southeast of Column 3


19.4 meters of Facies E
24.7 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
10.7 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
7.2 meters of Facies D
7.5 meters of Facies D, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
3.7 meters of Facies C
9.2 meters of Facies C, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
2.6 meters of Facies C, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
2.8 meters of Facies B
12.1 meters of Facies E
2.2 meters of Facies D
23.9 meters of Facies B
6.3 meters of Facies E
1.1 meters of Facies D
24.5 meters of Facies E

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

Column 5, 4.7 km southeast of Column 4


41.5 meters of Facies E
13.0 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
4.8 meters of Facies D
0.9 meters of Facies E
8.4 meters of Facies D
2.8 meters of Facies C
9.6 meters of Facies C, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
3.2 meters of Facies C, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
2.5 meters of Facies B
12.2 meters of Facies E
3.9 meters of Facies D
2.8 meters of Facies E
19.0 meters of Facies B
6.8 meters of Facies E
0.9 meters of Facies D
23.8 meters of Facies E

Column 6, 5.6 km southeast of Column 5


38.7 meters of Facies E
15.9 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
2.1 meters of Facies D
3.2 meters of Facies E
7.9 meters of Facies D
1.6 meters of Facies C
1.3 meters of Facies D
5.1 meters of Facies C
10.0 meters of Facies B
9.1 meters of Facies E

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

28.8 meters of Facies B


30.7 meters of Facies E

Column 7, 7.5 km southeast of Column 6


52.5 meters of Facies E
6.5 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
7.2 meters of Facies D
4.1 meters of Facies D, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
7.0 meters of Facies C
1.8 meters of Facies C, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
5.1 meters of Facies B
11.1 meters of Facies E
26.9 meters of Facies B
29.8 meters of Facies E

Column 8, 11.2 km southeast of Column 7


46.4 meters of Facies E
11.4 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
3.3 meters of Facies D
9.0 meters of Facies D, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
3.3 meters of Facies C
1.2 meters of Facies D
7.6 meters of Facies C
12.3 meters of Facies E
1.4 meters of Facies D
10.9 meters of Facies E
4.2 meters of Facies D
9.2 meters of Facies B
29.3 meters of Facies E

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

Column 9, 11.3 km southeast of Column 8


54.6 meters of Facies E
4.0 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
9.0 meters of Facies D
4.6 meters of Facies D, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
6.2 meters of Facies C
12.5 meters of Facies E
11.5 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
3.1 meters of Facies D
8.0 meters of Facies E
3.0 meters of Facies D
28.7 meters of Facies E

Column 10, 18.8 km southeast of Column 9


54.4 meters of Facies E
3.5 meters of Facies D
0.6 meters of Facies E
7.8 meters of Facies D
5.6 meters of Facies C
22.8 meters of Facies E
12.1 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
3.3 meters of Facies D
27.3 meters of Facies E

Column 11, 15.9 km southeast of Column 10


49.8 meters of Facies E
4.2 meters of Facies E, base of facies is shalier than the top of the underlying facies
8.2 meters of Facies D

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Stratigraphic Cross-Section

4.5 meters of Facies C


34.5 meters of Facies E
3.4 meters of Facies D
27.6 meters of Facies E

Column 12, 12.9 km southeast of Column 11


50.7 meters of Facies E
8.4 meters of Facies D
3.6 meters of Facies C
33.4 meters of Facies E
4.4 meters of Facies F; a few kilometers northwest of here, this facies overlies Facies D
28.1 meters of Facies E

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