The history of organismal evolution, seawater chemistry, and paleoclimate is recorded in layers of carbonate sedimentary rock. Meter-scale cyclic stacking patterns in these carbonates often are interpreted as representing sea level change. A reliable sedimentary proxy for eustasy would be profoundly useful for reconstructing paleoclimate, since sea level responds to changes in temperature and ice volume. However, the translation from water depth to carbonate layering has proven difficult, with recent surveys of modern shallow water platforms revealing little correlation between carbonate facies (i.e., grain size, sedimentary bed forms, ecology) and water depth. We train a convolutional neural network with satellite imagery and new field observations from a 3,000 km2 region northwest of Andros Island (Bahamas) to generate a facies map with 5 m resolution. Leveraging a newly-published bathymetry for the same region, we test the hypothesis that one can extract a signal of water depth change, not simply from individual facies, but from sequences of facies transitions analogous to vertically stacked carbonate strata. Our Hidden Markov Model (HMM) can distinguish relative sea level fall from random variability with ∼90% accuracy. Finally, since shallowing-upward patterns can result from local (autogenic) processes in addition to forced mechanisms such as eustasy, we search for statistical tools to diagnose the presence or absence of external forcings on relative sea level. With a new data-driven forward model that simulates how modern facies mosaics evolve to stack strata, we show how different sea level forcings generate characteristic patterns of cycle thicknesses in shallow carbonates, providing a new tool for quantitative reconstruction of ancient sea level conditions from the geologic record.
The prevalence of ooids in the stratigraphic record, and their association with shallow-water carbonate environments, make ooids an important paleoenvironmental indicator. Recent advances in the theoretical understanding of ooid morphology, along with empirical studies from Turks and Caicos, Great Salt Lake, and The Bahamas, have demonstrated that the morphology of ooids is indicative of depositional environment and hydraulic conditions. To apply this knowledge from modern environments to the stratigraphic record of Earth history, researchers measure the size and shape of lithified ooids on two-dimensional surfaces (i.e., thin sections or polished slabs), often assuming that random 2D slices intersect the nuclei and that the orientation of the ooids is known. Here we demonstrate that these assumptions rarely are true, resulting in errors of up to 35% on metrics like major axis length. We present a method for making 3D reconstructions by serial grinding and imaging, which enables accurate measurement of the morphology of individual ooids within an oolite, as well as the sorting and porosity of a sample. We also provide three case studies that use the morphology of ooids in oolites to extract environmental information. Each case study demonstrates that 2D measurements can be useful if the environmental signal is large relative to the error from 2D measurements. However, 3D measurements substantially improve the accuracy and precision of environmental interpretations. This study focuses on oolites, but errors from 2D measurements are not unique to oolites; this method can be used to extract accurate grain and porosity measurements from any lithified granular sample.