The Earth’s surface responds to external forcing (climate) and internal forcing (tectonics) in the long-term evolution of its erosional and depositional landscapes, which are connected by sediment fluxes. Extraction from surface sediment fluxes builds the stratigraphy of sedimentary basins. Erosional and depositional areas are connected in the sediment routing system.
Philip Allen's team in the 'Geodynamics: From Core to Surface' Sub-Group has recently explored the functioning of sediment routing systems both generically (1), and through a case study of an ancient system in the Spanish Pyrenees (2).
A key research challenge is the understanding of how sediment routing systems function on geological time scales. Philip Allen has started to construct maps of present-day and Recent sediment routing systems on the scale of whole continents, compiling information on rates of erosion and deposition and the connecting surface fluxes. These maps will be combined with tectonic and geodetic datasets to establish the extent of coupling between deep and surface processes. A numerical model will be developed that simulates sediment dispersal over a tectonically active underlying template, which will be calibrated by information contained in the sediment routing system maps. Finally, the evolution of sediment routing systems on a continental plate through the narrative of a plate tectonic cycle (from supercontinental assembly, rifting, break-up, drifting, subduction and collision) will be evaluated. The entire programme will not only aid the understanding of the coupling between deep and surface processes, but will also provide essential information for next-generation models of stratigraphic prediction.
Selected published papers
Allen, P.A. & Allen, J.R. (2013) Basin Analysis: Principles and Application to Petroleum Play Assessment. Wiley-Blackwell. Third Edition, 619 pp, Chapter 7 on The Sediment Routing System.
Armitage, J.J., Duller, R.A., Dunkley Jones, T., Whittaker, A.C. & Allen, P.A. (2013) Temporal buffering of climate-driven sediment flux cycles by transient catchment response. Earth & Planetary Science Letters, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2013.03.020i
Allen, P.A. and others (2013) The Qs problem: mass balances of Alpine foreland basin systems. In: Alpine Sedimentology, Special Issue in Sedimentology in honour of Albert Matter and Daniel Bernoulli, International Association of Sedimentologists, Sedimentology, 60, 102-130, doi: 10.1111/sed.12015.
Armitage, J.J., Duller, R.A., Whittaker, A.C. & Allen, P.A. (2011) Transformation of tectonic and climatic signals from source to stratigraphy. Nature Geoscience, 4, 231-235.
Whittaker, A.C., Attal, M. & Allen, P.A. (2010) Characterising the origin, nature and fate of sediment exported from catchments perturbed by tectonics. Basin Research, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2117.2009.00447.x.
Duller, R.A., Whittaker, A.C., Fedele, J.J., Springett, J., Smithells, R. & Allen, P.A. (2010) From grain size to tectonics Journal of Geophysical Research – Earth Surface, 115, F03022, doi:10.1029/2009JF001495.
Allen, P.A. (2008) From Landscapes into Geological History. International Year of Planet Earth, Nature Supplement, 17 January 2008, 451, 274-276, doi:10.1038/nature06586.
Allen, P.A. (2008) Time scales of tectonic landscapes and their sediment routing systems. In: Special Publication Geological Society London, Earth’s Dynamic Surface: Catastrophe and Continuity in Landscape Evolution (ed. by Gallagher, K., S.J. Jones and J. Wainwright), 296, 7-28, doi: 10.1144/SP296.2.
Michael, N.A., Whittaker, A.C. & Allen, P.A. (in press) The functioning of sediment routing systems using a mass balance approach: Example from the Eocene of the southern Pyrenees. Journal of Geology.
Parsons, A., Whittaker, A.C., Duller, R., Michael, N. & Allen, P.A. (2012) Late orogenic tectonic and erosional history revealed from the dispersal of fluvial gravels, south-central Pyrenees, Spain. Journal of the Geological Society, 169, 111-114, doi:10.1144/0016-76492011-087.
Whittaker, A.C., Duller, R.A., Springett, J., Smithells, R., Whitchurch, A.L. & Allen, P.A. (2011) Decoding downstream trends in stratigraphic grain-size as a function of tectonic subsidence and sediment supply. Bulletin Geological Society America, 123, 1363-1382, doi:10.1130/B30351.1.
A.L. Whitchurch, A. Carter, H.D. Sinclair, R.A. Duller, A.C. Whittaker, and P.A. Allen (2011) Sediment routing system evolution within a diachronously uplifting orogen: insights from detrital zircon thermochronological analyses from the south-central Pyrenees. American Journal of Science, 311, doi:10.2475/04.2011.00.