Physical controls on the measurement of geologic time and the architecture of stratigraphy

Research Summary

The basis of all our knowledge about past environments and life on Earth is based on the remarkable capacity of Earth to record its own evolution in the sedimentary archive. While the sedimentary archive provides us with the most complete record of past surface processes and associated sedimentary environments, the amount of time that is represented within stratigraphy is vanishingly small. Thus, our ability to quantitatively decode information about past environments from the nature and form of the sedimentary record hinges on developing a quantitative understanding of how the dynamics of surface processes are stored in stratigraphy, and in uncovering the nature of physical processes that survive the apparently stringent elimination process that is the stratigraphic filter. Within this broader context, our research interests are centered around addressing three interrelated questions. First, we seek to understand the physical controls on how, and how much, time is recorded in the sedimentary archive, and in unraveling the origins of stratigraphic incompleteness. Second, we are interested in using the geometry and architecture of stratigraphic surfaces to reconstruct the geometry and kinematics of the formative geomorphic surfaces, which can then be related to the prevailing forcing conditions (e.g., climate). Third, we seek to understand the nature of physical processes that eventually get recorded in the sedimentary archive, i.e., does the sedimentary archive preferentially record the mundane events or the extremes?

Selected Articles on this Topic

  • Paola, C., V. Ganti, D. Mohrig, A. C. Runkel, and K. M. Straub, Time not our time: physical controls on the preservation and measurement of geologic time, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, under review.
  • Ganti, V., C. von Hagke, D. Scherler, M. P. Lamb, W. W. Fischer, and J.-P. Avouac (2016), Timescale bias in erosion rates of glaciated landscapes, Science Advances, 2, e1600204, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600204.
  • Straub, K. M., V. Ganti, C. Paola, and E. Foufoula-Georgiou (2012), Prevalence of exponential bed thickness distributions in the stratigraphic record: Experiments and theory, J. Geophys. Res. – Earth Surf., 117, F02003, doi:10.1029/2011JF002034.
  • Voller, V. R., V. Ganti, C. Paola, and E. Foufoula-Georgiou (2012), Does the flow of information in a landscape have direction?, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L01403, doi:10.1029/2011GL050265.
  • Ganti, V., K. M. Straub, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, and C. Paola (2011), Space-time dynamics of depositional systems: Experimental evidence and theoretical modeling of heavy-tailed statistics, J. Geophys. Res. – Earth Surf., 116, F02011, doi:10.1029/2010JF001893.


Hydrodynamic controls on the evolution of bed forms and resulting cross-stratification


Stochastic theories for sediment transport