Desert wetlands in the geologic record

Earth-Science Reviews
By: , and 
Edited by: L. Edwards and A. Springer

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Abstract

Desert wetlands support flora and fauna in a variety of hydrologic settings, including seeps, springs, marshes, wet meadows, ponds, and spring pools. Over time, eolian, alluvial, and fluvial sediments become trapped in these settings by a combination of wet ground conditions and dense plant cover. The result is a unique combination of clastic sediments, chemical precipitates, and organic matter that is preserved in the geologic record as ground-water discharge (GWD) deposits. GWD deposits contain information on the timing and magnitude of past changes in water-table levels and, therefore, are a potential source of paleohydrologic and paleoclimatic information. In addition, they can be important archeological and paleontological archives because desert wetlands provide reliable sources of fresh water, and thus act as focal points for human and faunal activities, in some of the world's harshest and driest lands. Here, we review some of the physical, sedimentological, and geochemical characteristics common to GWD deposits, and provide a contextual framework that researchers can use to identify and interpret geologic deposits associated with desert wetlands. We discuss several lines of evidence used to differentiate GWD deposits from lake deposits (they are commonly confused), and examine how various types of microbiota and depositional facies aid in reconstructing past environmental and hydrologic conditions. We also review how late Quaternary GWD deposits are dated, as well as methods used to investigate desert wetlands deeper in geologic time. We end by evaluating the strengths and limitations of hydrologic and climatic records derived from GWD deposits, and suggest several avenues of potential future research to further develop and utilize these unique and complex systems.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Desert wetlands in the geologic record
Series title Earth-Science Reviews
DOI 10.1016/j.earscirev.2014.02.001
Volume 132
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Description 15 p.
First page 67
Last page 81
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N