Classical notions of "layer-cake stratigraphy" have been denigrated as representing an antiquated "Neptunian" view of the geologic record with the American paleontologist-stratigrapher E.O. Ulrich vilified as its quintessential advocate. Some of the extreme "layer-cake" interpretations of E.O. Ulrich are demonstrably incorrect, especially where applied in marginal marine and terrestrial settings. However, close scrutiny of Ulrich's work suggests that the bulk was correct and demonstrated considerable insight for the time. Subsequent development of facies concepts revolutionized geologists' view of time-space relationships in stratigraphy, but rather than focusing on facies patterns within the established stratigraphic (layer-cake) frameworks many geologists in North America came to view strata as parts of diachronous facies mosaics. Recent advances in the development of event and sequence stratigraphic paradigms are beginning to swing the pendulum back the other way. Possible causes of "layer-cake" patterns are numerous and varied, including: (1) parallelism of depositional strike and outcrop belts, especially in foreland basins, (2) very widespread environmental belts developed in low-relief cratonic areas, (3) time-averaging homogenizes facies to a limited extent, resulting in a very subtle signature of lateral change, (4) condensed beds (hardgrounds, bone beds, ironstones, etc.) often form in responses to extrabasinal forces, thus they cross-cut facies, and (5) large events (i.e. hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, eruptions, etc.) are "over represented" in the rock record. A revised ("Neo-Ulrichian") layer-cake paradigm carries many of the original correct empirical observations of pattern, noted by Ulrich, recast in terms of event and sequence stratigraphy.
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Eo-Ulrichian to Neo-Ulrichian views: The renaissance of "layer-cake stratigraphy"