Stratigraphy: Lost in Translation?

stlucia_dinnerThe Geological Society Club has been transformed into a new Specialist Group of the Society – the Geological Society Discussion Group.

All Fellows and guests are welcome to attend its meetings, at which a speaker will introduce a topic of current geological interest, leading to discussion over dinner.

Our next event is on 22 February, 6.30pm for 7pm, at Bumpkins Restaurant, South Kensington. The closing date for registrations is Monday 6 February.

elec-whittaker-alexAlex Whittaker (Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College, London) will lead the discussion, which he introduces below:

Stratigraphy: Lost in Translation?

The sedimentary record is the only physical archive we have of erosion and mass transport across Earth’s surface in the past. As geologists, we therefore assume, sometimes implicitly, that we will learn something about the tectonics and climate from stratigraphy, because these processes profoundly shape the Earth’s surface. This view has a long history, being articulated in Lyell’s Principles of Geology in the early 1830s.

However, there is much we do not understand about the sensitivity of landscapes to a change in tectonic or climatic conditions. If rainfall doubles on a mountainous region tomorrow, would we erode twice as much sediment?  How long would the response time be to this change?  We don’t really know.  But what we do know is that in some landscapes it is only during extreme conditions – such as a very wet Death Valley, shown below – that sediment can move. Perhaps the average conditions don’t actually matter?

Death Valley, California

Death Valley, California

To add to this, computational models of landscape evolution have argued that the Earth’s surface may be buffered to high-frequency, high-magnitude climate change. And even if catchments do record a change in sediment fluxes because of changing environmental conditions, the signal may not reach sedimentary basins because of the complex dynamics of sediment transfer. This loss of information has been referred to as signal shredding.  If correct, this challenges some of the cosy assumptions we might be tempted to make when looking at sedimentary rocks!

In this discussion, I am going to consider the implications of these ideas, and what researchers, including my group at Imperial College London, are doing to solve this question.

How to book

Please email Caroline Seymour (carolines[at] to register your attendance, by Monday 6 February.


The cost is £33 for Discussion Group members and students, £40 for non members, which includes dinner and one drink.

All Fellows of the Society are welcome to attend – non Fellows are welcome to attend as guests.

Membership of the Discussion Group costs £30 per year (£15 for country members) – for more information, contact Caroline Seymour.


Bumpkins Restaurant
102 Old Brompton Road
South Kensington

Further information

More information about the Geological Society Discussion Group can be found on our website.

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