Lost in the wind: An integrated approach for the recognition of mixed clastic–carbonate continental aeolianites

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Aeolianites with a mixed clastic and carbonate detrital mineralogy are typical deposits of tropical coastal desert environments. These deposits are genetically related to transgressive–regressive cycles, with the shallow-marine carbonate detrital component being deflated from the exposed seafloor during episodes of glacial sea-level lowstands, transported and later accumulated onto more continental areas. A detailed investigation of the granulometric and petrographic properties of the Late Pleistocene to Holocene Ghayathi Formation in the United Arab Emirates provides a comprehensive numerical dataset that reveals the complex spatio-temporal depositional and diagenetic evolution of a mixed siliciclastic–carbonate continental aeolianite. Fifty-one thin sections and forty-four rock samples of three sedimentary units (Madinat-Zayed, Ghayathi and Fuwayrit formations) from the United Arab Emirates were analyzed for their grain-size distribution, mineralogy and the bulk stable-carbon and oxygen isotopic composition. Sorting, skewness and kurtosis of the grain-size distributions provide evidence for a divergent aerodynamic behaviour between the carbonate and siliciclastic particles. The different grain-size distributions between the inland and coastal sections of the Ghayathi Formation indicate that continental mixed clastic−carbonate aeolianites are affected by density-driven selective transport and consequent traction sorting due to the nature of carbonate detritus. The transport decoupling of the different detrital components resulted in a ‘continental sorting’ effect, with the inland sections yielding layers characterized by a better sorted detritus than the coastal areas. All detritus originally composed of aragonite has been removed by dissolution during early meteoric diagenesis, with its shapes frequently preserved by micritic envelopes. The bulk stable-isotope composition of the carbonate fraction reflects a decreasing degree of meteoric cementation from coastal to inland areas. The high complexity of the lateral and vertical distribution of the sedimentary, diagenetic and isotopic properties of continental mixed aeolianites, such as the Ghayathi Formation, highlights the problem of recognizing such deposits in the pre-Quaternary sedimentary record.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)2203-2227
Number of pages25
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • continental carbonates
  • Continental mixed aeolianites
  • grain-size analysis
  • petrotexture
  • stable-isotopes


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