Wave-formed structures and paleoenvironmental reconstruction
Wave-formed sedimentary structures can be powerful interpretive tools because they reflect not only the velocity and direction of the oscillatory currents, but also the length of the horizontal component of orbital motion and the presence of velocity asymmetry within the flow. Several of these aspects can be related through standard wave theories to combinations of wave dimensions and water depth that have definable natural limits. For a particular grain size, threshold of particle movement and that of conversion from a rippled to flat bed indicate flow-velocity limits. The ratio of ripple spacing to grain size provides an estimate of the length of the near-bottom orbital motion. The degree of velocity asymmetry is related to the asymmetry of the bedforms, though it presently cannot be estimated with confidence. A plot of water depth versus wave height (h-H diagram) provides a convenient approach for showing the combination of wave parameters and water depths capable of generating any particular structure in sand of a given grain size. Natural limits on wave height and inferences or assumptions regarding either water depth or wave period based on geologic evidence allow refinement of the paleoenvironmental reconstruction. The assumptions and the degree of approximation involved in the different techniques impose significant constraints. Inferences based on wave-formed structures are most reliable when they are drawn in the context of other evidence such as the association of sedimentary features or progradational sequences. ?? 1984.