Thursday, December 20, 2012

RIP—Print JSR. Like Pulling Band-Aids Off Hairy Arms....

“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Now is a time to stop.  As many readers know, JSR is moving to an all digital format in 2013 – SEPM will no longer print hard copies of the journal.  This change is a major shift in the journal, which has published on paper continuously since 1931, as the oldest journal in sedimentary geology.  This change has been coming for years, but apparently still surprises and disappoints some dedicated JSR readers.  For example, here is a recent email note from an SEPM member, copied verbatim.

Shocking news from SEPM concerning its politics to get out of general printing of J. Sed. Res. and Palaios and to publish preferentially electronically in future…. This might be the way of the 21th century, but I always appreciated the days, when the new issues of the journals arrived at home, to sit in a comfortable armchair, scroll  through the content and to read interesting or even stimulating contents. Last not least it was a pleasure to put the issues on the shelf, where I assembled J. Sed.Pet. since 1981 and Palaios from Vol. 1 (palaeontologists apparently are collectors).  Compared to 2012, the subscription prices for 2013 for “print on demand” increased in such an dramatic rate that I will not afford that. I am not interested to receive electronic version for my private pleasure.  I therefore decided – and not so easily – to cancel my membership … after 31 years.”

As with SEPM as a whole, we at JSR aim to serve the community of sedimentary geologists and paleontologists, and so receiving a letter like this is somewhat disturbing.  As such, we would like to take the opportunity to briefly explain some of the reasoning behind the decision.

SEPM journals form the financial backbone of the society.  The vast majority of the society revenue comes from the journals, and this net positive revenue supports the Special Publications, Annual Meetings, Special Conferences, and so on.

Historically, however, trends in journal expenses and revenue are clear and illustrate that: 1) on-line versions are more profitable than the print versions; 2) the number of those receiving hard copies has steadily declined; and 3) continuing to print the paper versions has become more and more expensive with time – actually representing a revenue drain, for an increasingly smaller number of print subscribers.  In fact, the society has published paper editions of the journals at a net loss annually, estimated to be in excess of $75,000 for 2012.  Although your humble blogger has forgotten the numbers with that last glass of egg nog, the cost of printing each and every issue of the year was equal to the annual revenue from subscribers – and the difference between the cost and the price paid was basically subsidized by everyone else, those who elected to receive only the electronic version.

[To be clear, however, SEPM does provide Print-on-Demand at cost through a vendor.  Or you can print out your own hard copies.  More info on POD will be forthcoming….]  

These financial constraints worked in concert with changing perceptions and utilization of journals.  Increasing journal prices and decreasing library budgets lead to constraints, and many libraries are opting to go for only one version – the on-line version.  Similarly, many (but certainly not all) of our consumers are requesting ease of access – facilitated by on-line publications.  The official version of JSR papers have been on-line for years now, and JSR is available your mobile device as well.

Although the majority of scientists suggest they search and read journals on-line, it is true that many still enjoy reading hard copies, including many SEPM members.  For us, the transition may be somewhat difficult – but we will make it.  But we hope is like one SEPM council member said during the discussion of the transition – “…phasing it out would be sort of like slowly pulling a band-aid off my hairy leg.  Better to yank! 

In The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Mitch Albom wrote,“All endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time.” We thank our readers for working with us through this transition and we look forward to continuing to pursue unique avenues for communicating the best science!  We welcome your feedback.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Highlights – Mixed System Reef Diagenesis

Although siliciclastic-influenced carbonate systems are common through the stratigraphic record, their diagenesis remains poorly constrained, especially in the context of climatic variability.  Madden and Wilson describe diagenetic alteration of Neogene delta-front coral reefs that formed coevally with nearly continuous siliciclastic influx in a humid equatorial setting from equatorial Borneo.  The data show that continental groundwater flow driven by basin-margin palaeohydrology resulted in pervasive stabilization and calcitization, features rare in arid or temperate counterparts. The results provide an analog for patterns of diagenesis and porosity distribution in nearshore marine carbonates along predominantly siliciclastic coastlines, such as in delta-front, fan-delta, or siliciclastic inner-shelf settings.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Highlights – Out of This World Shapes

Akin to the Earth’s, the lunar surface is covered by a regolith of clastic particles; yet, the processes that impact these particles is quite distinct.  To better understand the potential character of the lunar surface and its impact on spacecraft, Rickman et al. describe results aimed at characterizing shape, a fundamental (yet poorly constrained) descriptive attribute of simulants of these particles. The results illustrate a range of techniques that will be useful for systematically describing lunar samples, when they become available.

Particle shape in simulants of the lunar regolith by Doug Rickman, Christopher Immer, Philip Metzger, Emily Dixon, Matthew Pendleton, and Jennifer Edmunson

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Highlights – A Flysch-y Story

Stratigraphy records the plate tectonic history of the Earth.  In this paper, Shaulis et al. describe the nature, timing and rates of orogenic flysch deposition in the late Paleozoic Ouachita trough on the southeastern Laurentian margin using U-Pb dates of zircon.  The results document late Mississippian tectono-sedimentary dynamics, including changing rates of accumulation related to a submarine fan complex interpreted to have built longitudinally along the basin axis.  These results provide new insights into the character and dynamics of flysch sedimentation in closing remnant ocean basins.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Research and Publication Ethics

Authors, reviewers, and editors all have rights and responsibilities during the publication process. Unfortunately, there have been several recent situations of unethical behavior by individuals and groups in association with SEPM publications.

To facilitate clear and explicit communication of expectations, SEPM recently provided on the SEPM web page a new statement of ethics in research and publications that outlines general principles of research and publication ethics and acceptable conduct. This general policy statement includes aspects of:

1) Author Inclusion and Exclusion;
2) Data and Copyright Issues;
3) Editor and Reviewer Roles; and
4) Research Misconduct – Recognition and Guidelines for Action. 

As written, the statement includes eleven guidelines and principles cover important topics that should be read and understood by anyone who submits or reviews manuscripts for publication by SEPM, including JSR.  This statement can be found on-line at:  Please take a few seconds to review this material, and hopefully avoid any future issues.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reviewer Comments

Oh, JSR reviewers.  As you make constructive and insightful comments to help authors improve their manuscripts, you also provide some really entertaining, but perhaps less penetrating, moments. Some recent comments (verbatim) by reviewers in this latter category include the following:

  • “This reads like a mystery novel, or a poker tourney, with so much dodging and hedging. Call a spade a spade, and get on with it.”
  • “Hopefully they will send it somewhere else so I don't have to review it a 4th time!!”
  • “This is one of the worst paper I never reviewed!”
  • “I even got to the point where I began to question my own judgment - can it really be that bad?”
  • Sorry for delay - I'll spare you all the usually lame excuses for why I'm so lame; lameness just has a way of creeping up on me this time of year….”

Beyond reviewer comments, one person declined to accept to review a manuscript. His reason for declining to review was quite simple: "Even the title is terminally boring." 

There is a message for authors in his comment, or so it would seem.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Highlights—Deep-Water Jumps

Stratigraphy commonly is interpreted within hierarchical, or scale dependent, frameworks that subdivide deposits based on interpretations of distinct jumps in characteristics at certain scales. Here Straub and Pyles use the compensation index to describe the architecture of stratigraphy exposed in outcrops of submarine-fan strata in the Carboniferous Ross Sandstone representing contrasting architectural styles, including predominantly lobe elements and predominantly channel elements. Results indicate statistically significant increases in the strength of compensation across larger hierarchical levels, consistent with hierarchical interpretations of stratigraphy, and that lobe elements stack more compensationally than channel elements. The results are interpreted to reflect compensation increases along a longitudinal transect through this distributive submarine fan, and that some characteristics of sedimentary systems are hierarchical, whereas others are fractal.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Highlights—Rivers on the Down Low(stand)

Many hydrocarbon-bearing reservoirs include cyclic strata, and understanding the controls can provide important predictive insights.  In this study, Sullivan and Sullivan   examine the unconformity-bounded estuarine and fluvial sandstones of middle Eocene Domengine Formation of the Sacramento basin, California.  The results illustrate that tectonism controlled the location of incised fluvial and estuarine systems that stack vertically and trend southwest toward the structurally controlled depocenter, but that eustasy controlled the timing of the regressive-transgressive depositional cyclicity.  These results provide a conceptual model for architecture, thickness trends, and facies distribution in this, and perhaps other, lowstand river-dominated estuarine units.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Highlights—'N Synch in the Paradox

As environments near mean sea level, mixed siliciclastic-carbonate shallow marine and coastal systems are sensitive to both relative changes in sea level and climate shifts.  Jordan and Mountney document facies, stratigraphy, and cyclicity in the Pennsylvanian-Permian lower Cutler beds of the Paradox Basin, USA, to explore variability in contemporaneously active eolian, fluvial, and shallow marine systems.  The results indicate that relative changes in sea level and climate shifts were linked, and how each of these distinct subenvironments responded to these changes.  The data provide a conceptual model for stratigraphic architecture within and among cycles and, based on these insights, offers a conceptual model for correlation strategies that should be applicable to other mixed systems.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Look Back…80 years ago: Microbial Carbonates

Although application of new tools to study microbial processes have revealed novel insights into the role of microbes on calcium carbonate precipitation and accumulation of many limestone successions, the role of micro-organisms was postulated long ago.  For example, eighty years ago, Gee reviewed the observations and interpretations of the role of bacterial activity on the character and accumulation of carbonates.  The review suggested that “…the inferences have usually outrun the established facts.”  He surmised that “biological and the chemical aspects of this geological problem can therefore not be considered as distinct from one another,” but that at least in some settings, the biologic component may be the limiting factor.  The study cautioned, however, that “sulphur organisms, with endocellular calcareous granules, are the only bacteria to which the phrase ‘specific precipitating power’ applies….”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Look Back…75 years ago: Microbial Lacustrine Carbonates

Although recent discoveries and exploitation in the South Atlantic have re-emphasized their importance, for many years, lacustrine carbonates have been de-emphasized relative to their more abundant open marine counterparts.  Seventy-five years ago, Twenhofel described bottom sediment in Lake Monona in Wisconsin.  The study of cores from this lake revealed black organic-rich sludge underlain by lighter-colored firm marls.  Perhaps heralding recent emphasis into the importance of microbial processes in lacustrine carbonates, the results were interpreted to reflect the importance of bacteria in degradation of organic matter, precipitation of calcium carbonate, and, ultimately, the manner and style of accumulation of these lake deposits.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Look Back…50 years ago: The Evolving Science of Stratigraphy

For many years, the field of stratigraphy was largely a descriptive science.  In his address as president of SEPM in 1962, Sloss suggested that the aspects of stratigraphy which addressed the “patterns in space and time formed by the bodies of rock” that form sedimentary rocks remained poorly understood due in part because of the “awesome complexities involved.”  He advocated an approach in which stratigraphy might become more predictive and quantitative, facilitated by “analysis of sedimentologic data in terms of specific process variables which interact to produce an observable stratigraphic response,” such as a distinct geometry or composition.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Highlights – Not All Mud Is Transported Equally...

Understanding the genesis of muddy successions, although widespread and stratigraphically and economically important, has lagged behind that of its coarser counterparts.  In this paper, Plint et al. address the question of how was mud transported for more than 200 km across a shallow, low-gradient ramp in the Upper Cretaceous foreland basin of Alberta, Canada?  Microscopic examination shows that organic-rich mudstone (up to 11% TOC; a major source-rock) was transported mainly in the form of low density silt-size aggregates of clay mineral grains.  Aggregates are relatively well consolidated and are interpreted to have been reworked from shallowly-buried (cm-dm) sediment and transported as bedload by storms-driven combined and geostrophic flows on this extremely low-gradient ramp.  These results illustrate a means by which clay mineral-rich sediment, far removed from their source, can accumulate in relatively shallow water and preserve organic matter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Highlights – Microbialites and Morphology

Understanding how microbialites record biological processes is essential for interpreting ancient microbial ecology and evolution.  To explore these processes, Harwood and Sumner evaluate how closely microbialite microstructures reflect the morphology and organization of the microbial community as opposed to other environmental or diagenetic processes in stromatolites and thrombolites in the Neoproterozoic Beck Spring Dolomite.  Here, these units preserve clotted and laminated microfabrics with variable preservation of microbial growth structures. This study demonstrates that diverse microfabrics in Beck Spring microbialites reflect both the morphology and organization of microbial communities as well as secondary degradational processes, and provides criteria for distinguishing these origins. Applying these criteria to ancient microbialites will facilitate evaluation of whether preserved diverse microstructures reflect variable preservation or an ecologically complex microbial community.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Highlights – Deltas and Sea Level

Sequence stratigraphic characterization represents an important means to subdivide complex stratigraphic successions, but the means to do so and the genetic implications continue to be debated.  In this paper, Zhu et al. describe sequence stratigraphic and chronometric analysis of extensively exposed outcrops of the Ferron Notom delta complex in south-central Utah, interpreted in the context of shoreline trajectory and accommodation-succession models.  A local accommodation curve of the deltaic complex is interpreted to indicate high-frequency and high-amplitude sea-level changes, and reflecting glacio-eustasy.  The paper implicates high-frequency and high-amplitude eustatic sea-level change as a control, driven by waxing or waning of small- to medium-sized ice sheets during episodic and ephemeral glaciations in the Antarctic region during the Late Cretaceous.

Milankovitch-scale sequence stratigraphy and stepped forced regressions of the Turonian Ferron Notom Deltaic Complex, south-central Utah, U.S.A. by Yijie Zhu, Janok P. Bhattacharya, Weiguo Li, Thomas J. Lapen, Brian R. Jicha, and Brad S. Singer

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Highlights – Proglacial Processes

Past and present proglacial sedimentary systems record valuable information about critical phases of the Earth’s climatic history.  Although glacial outburst-related sedimentation has been identified in proglacial outwash systems, the behavior of glacial outburst flows when entering the sea are poorly understood. Here, Girard et al. document an Upper Ordovician proglacial sand-rich delta-front succession preserved in southwestern Libya, exploring how the proglacial delta front responded to sediment and meltwater discharge inputs of varying magnitude and frequency. The observations and interpretations, consistent with Pleistocene analogs, should be applicable to other paleoglaciations, and provide conceptual model for studies on management and vulnerability of groundwater and the development of glaciogenic hydrocarbon reservoirs.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Highlights – Palustrine Oolite – Rocks, but Hold the Roll

Marine ooids commonly are interpreted in the context of hydrodynamic processes, but palustrine ooids are less well understood.  Miller and James explore how palustrine ooids are produced in situ and without the necessity of grain movement.  Samples from the Nullarbor Plain in Australia reveal a suite of microbially produced structures within degraded minimicrite cortical laminae.  These ooids are interpreted to be controlled seasonal wet-dry alternations in the soil which, coupled with microbially mediated mineral precipitation, led to formation of laminae (and ooids) in place.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Look Back...5 years – Seismic Geomorphology

Recognition, characterization, and analysis of paleo-geomorphic patterns in seismic data is a relatively new field.  In this contribution, Wood describes an example of how integrated seismic data, core and log information can be utilized to characterize and predict the nature and architecture of subsurface reservoirs.  This study focused on fluvial, deltaic, and shallow marine systems in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and described how morphometric analysis – constrained by log and core data, as well as experimental and modern analogs – can provide unique predictive insights into spatial variability in reservoir distribution and quality.   These quantitative analyses suggested some of the valuable information that can be provided by seismic data, beyond that offered by standard sequence analyses.

A Look Back...10 years – Self-Organized Tidal Flats

Although stratigraphers have long recognized that carbonate facies bodies are finite entities, characterizing their dimensions and interpreting the controlling parameters has remained a fundamental challenge.  In this paper, Rankey described a quantitative analysis of spatial patterns of subfacies size, abundance, and distribution using remote sensing data from the carbonate tidal flats of Andros Island in the Bahamas.  The results of the study revealed systematic trends in size-frequency distributions and of gaps between similar subfacies, patterns interpreted to represent power-law distributions.  These results were interpreted to be “inconsistent with models suggesting that tidal flats include a migrating complex of randomly distributed, randomly sized subenvironments,” but instead that the tidal flats are shaped by feedbacks and self-organization.

A Look Back...25 Years – Ooids and Environment

Ooids are common in many stratigraphic successions, and have provided insights into paleo-oceanographic, paleo-climatic, and paleo-depositional trends.  Here, Chow and James document the mineralogy, cortical fabrics, and diagenesis of ooids in a Middle and Upper Cambrian succession from Newfoundland.  The data from this succession revealed differences in the character of ooids in subtidal and intertidal environments, although the variability and preservation also were influenced by burial diagenesis.  These results illustrating facies-specific characteristics were interpreted to reflect the primacy of local environmental conditions (turbulence and topography) on the character of ooids in the Cambrian, distinct from more global controls on ooid type and distribution today.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Highlights – Quartz Sand Cementation

Cementation in sandstone is spatially variable.  McBride documents cementation patterns in the Eureka Sandstone, a classic early Paleozoic quartz arenite sand sheet that was deposited across much of the western United States, and investigates why in some places it is friable and others is referred to as a “quartzite,” even in the same outcrop.  The results of the study illustrate how heterogeneous early quartz cementation leads to heterogeneous compaction; the culprit is interpreted to be related to the distribution of an authigenic illite coating on some grains that acted to retard quartz cementation.  The data indicate how cementation by quartz is not always a homogeneous process and quartzite and friable sandstones can exist in close proximity.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Highlights – Burrows and Early Dolomite

Evaluating the controls on early dolomite formation in ancient rocks is challenging due to a lack of reliable proxies that can be used to infer microscale environmental conditions of dolomitization.  Corlett and Jones examine sedimentological and geochemical differences between dolomite- and calcite-filled burrows in Devonian rocks from the Lonely Bay Formation, in the Northwest Territories, Canada.  An integration of various geochemical and sedimentological analyses explains why dolomite formed in some of these burrows whereas others are filled with calcite. The results of this study highlight the role of sulphate-reducing bacteria, oxygenation, and different types of organic material in early dolomite precipitation.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Highlights – Deltas and Deliverance

Most geologists would agree that shelf-edge delta processes are related to deep-water sand delivery, but the details of this linkage are somewhat uncertain.  Dixon et al. utilize a dataset of 29 examples of linked shelf, shelf-edge and deep-water strata and postulate that the depositional processes in operation at shelf-edge deltas (the 'process regime' of the delta) is intimately linked with the style of sediment transport on the associated slope and basin floor. The understanding of this link between delta process regime and deep-water stratigraphy provides insights into sedimentary source to sink systems and predictive conceptual models for hydrocarbon exploration.

Shelf-edge delta regime as a predictor of deep-water deposition by J.F. Dixon, R.J. Steel, and C. Olariu

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Derived from igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary sources and physically and chemically resilient, quartz is the dominant mineral in sandstone.  Yet, Augustsson and Reker argue, it has been underutilized as a provenance tool.  In this paper, they illustrate a methodology for utilizing quartz wavelength spectra and cathodoluminescence character of individual grains of different crystalline sources as an objective means for evaluating their provenance.  The results highlight the utility of reflectance spectra (as opposed to more subjective descriptions of “color”) to provide unique insights into the source of quartz in sedimentary rocks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Although volumetrically insignificant relative to the dominant siliciclastics of continental rift basins, strata of chemical origin can provide important information.  Mack et al. explore the origin of a syndepositional geothermal opal deposit in Pliocene axial-fluvial facies of the southern Rio Grande rift, New Mexico, using field and geochemical observations.  The data suggest that the opal and calcite precipitated from high-temperature fluid of either a deep crustal or an advecting bedrock source.  These results provide a conceptual model for recognition of similar deposits in ancient continental rifts, and insights into their hydrologic and thermal evolution.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Editor Notes

The Review Process---Some Data

“My brother is really, really slow.” – Usain Bolt

We all want our manuscripts back quickly - “The review process is too slow!  I want my manuscript done ASAP!” 

Given this fair concern regarding time, we went back into the JSR archives and did some digging.  We asked the question – “What is the slowest part of the review process?”  The answer was interesting.

We considered the time from when a manuscript is submitted until a decision is reached, and all of the benchmarks along the way – assignment to editor, assignment to Associate Editor (AE), acceptance of first reviewer to review the manuscript, acceptance of second reviewer to handle the manuscript, receipt of all reviews, AE recommendation, and editor decision. 
Of all of these factors, the slowest aspect – the weak link in the chain – turns out to be the time in peer review by the external reviewers.  Over the past 6 years, manuscripts submitted to JSR averaged nearly SEVENTY PERCENT of their time in this stage of review - sitting, waiting either for someone to accept the responsibility to review them, and actually returning their reviews to the AE. 

On average, 44% of potential reviewers either decline to review manuscripts or simply do not respond.  Hence - it takes time to find willing and able and qualified reviewers.  Then, it takes time to properly review a manuscript, and we all have “real jobs” that require our time and efforts. 

Thus, it turned back around on the community.  Although we all desire more rapid reviews, we all bear responsibility for ensuring that this happens.  Playing silly games like the one author who threatened to “filibuster” a review he was doing until he got his reviews back clearly do not help the process move any faster. 

[SIDEBAR: The reviewer who threatened to hold a manuscript “hostage” (see previous post) – who demanded prompt reviews – had been asked five times to review manuscripts in the past few years.  Only once did he accept (e.g., he declined the 80% of the time!).  So he actually bears a disproportionately large share of blame for “slowness!”] 

We believe in the peer-review process. Of course it is not perfect.  Of course, it could be done more rapidly.  But, a more rapid review process would also require reviewers (you!) to return reviews faster.  Are you willing to do this?

Some folks are.  Since 2005, there have been 23 reviewers who have handled an average of one manuscript per year (thank you!).  Interestingly, these reviewers who handle at least one manuscript per year are on average 18% faster than the remainder who carry less of the load individually.  Of these, three have done so averaging less than 10 days per review - Andrew Miall, Brian Jones, and Thomas Algeo.  A double thank you to these “superstars” who also commonly provide careful reviews; like Usain Bolt, they can say that they are faster than others!

“Wisely, and slow.  They stumble, that run fast.” – William Shakespeare
“The slower you go, the more you see” – Ted the Turtle

Having said all of this regarding a desire for more rapid reviews, as one AE wisely stated, “At the end of the day, flux in equals flux out.”  A year from now, it will not matter if your manuscript spent an extra week in review.  And, we also caution any urge to make speed of a review the primary measure of success or quality.

After all, many careful and productive reviewers take their time.  They read a manuscript, sit and reflect on the data, arguments, logic, and structure.  Then, they proceed to plow through the details, followed by another period of reflection.  These reflections are summarized in a well-written, organized, and constructive cover letter that addresses suggestions for improving the science and the presentation.  This process is not rapid.  Yet, it is essential, and it is valuable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Highlights---Gradients and Growth of Concretions

Concretions represent localized precipitation of minerals; yet, why is precipitation localized, rather than disseminated?  To explore this question, Bojanowski and Clarkson examine petrographic and geochemical characteristics of a series of siderite nodules from Mississippian shale of Scotland.  These nodules include a homogenous microstructure, but elevated ╬┤13C and distinct isotopic shifts from center to edge, interpreted to reflect early precipitation favored by methanogenesis in microenvironments created by localized organic detritus.  These results suggest that geochemical gradients preserved in concretions may result from geochemical gradients around organic matter, rather than changing composition of water during growth.