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Cenozoic stratigraphy of the Sahara, Northern Africa

February 1, 2009

This paper presents an overview of the Cenozoic stratigraphic record in the Sahara, and shows that the strata display some remarkably similar characteristics across much of the region. In fact, some lithologies of certain ages are exceptionally widespread and persistent, and many of the changes from one lithology to another appear to have been relatively synchronous across the Sahara. The general stratigraphic succession is that of a transition from early Cenozoic carbonate strata to late Cenozoic siliciclastic strata. This transition in lithology coincides with a long-term eustatic fall in sea level since the middle Cretaceous and with a global climate transition from a Late Cretaceous–Early Eocene “warm mode” to a Late Eocene–Quaternary “cool mode”. Much of the shorter-term stratigraphic variability in the Sahara (and even the regional unconformities) also can be correlated with specific changes in sea level, climate, and tectonic activity during the Cenozoic. Specifically, Paleocene and Eocene carbonate strata and phosphate are suggestive of a warm and humid climate, whereas latest Eocene evaporitic strata (and an end-Eocene regional unconformity) are correlated with a eustatic fall in sea level, the build-up of ice in Antarctica, and the appearance of relatively arid climates in the Sahara. The absence of Oligocene strata throughout much of the Sahara is attributed to the effects of generally low eustatic sea level during the Oligocene and tectonic uplift in certain areas during the Late Eocene and Oligocene. Miocene sandstone and conglomerate are attributed to the effects of continued tectonic uplift around the Sahara, generally low eustatic sea level, and enough rainfall to support the development of extensive fluvial systems. Middle–Upper Miocene carbonate strata accumulated in northern Libya in response to a eustatic rise in sea level, whereas Upper Miocene mudstone accumulated along the south side of the Atlas Mountains because uplift of the mountains blocked fluvial access to the Mediterranean Sea. Uppermost Miocene evaporites (and an end-Miocene regional unconformity) in the northern Sahara are correlated with the Messinian desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea. Abundant and widespread Pliocene paleosols are attributed to the onset of relatively arid climate conditions and (or) greater variability of climate conditions, and the appearance of persistent and widespread eolian sediments in the Sahara is coincident with the major glaciation in the northern hemisphere during the Pliocene.

Publication Year 2009
Title Cenozoic stratigraphy of the Sahara, Northern Africa
DOI 10.1016/j.jafrearsci.2008.08.001
Authors Christopher S. Swezey
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of African Earth Sciences
Index ID 70046857
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Native American Tribal Relations