Is the present the key to the past? A global characterization of modern sedimentary basins

Björn Nyberg, John A. Howell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
68 Downloads (Pure)


The stratigraphic record is heavily biased because it is uniquely composed of sediments that were laid down in basins, whereas the majority of the present and historic land surface of the planet is composed of areas that are in net long-term erosion with no preservation potential. Global mapping and quantification of the distribution of currently active sedimentary basins suggest that only 16% of Earth’s terrestrial land surface is within sedimentary basins; the remainder of the land is in upland areas that will not be represented in the future rock record. Furthermore, 60% of the modern basin area has an arid climate, as opposed to 27% of the land surface. Tectonic classification of modern basins indicates that intracratonic and foreland basins cover the greatest area, whereas forearc, extensional, and strike-slip basins are the least represented by area. While this modern snapshot does not account for differences in subsidence rate or basin longevity, the mapping and quantification of modern basins highlight the incompleteness of the stratigraphic record, and the importance of caution when assuming “the present is the key to the past.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-646
Number of pages4
Issue number7
Early online date5 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 06/05/2015
We thank the FORCE Consortium for funding this research, Rob Butler and Walter Wheeler for quality control on the global basin classification, and David MacDonald for reviewing an earlier draft of this manuscript. We also thank Gary Weissmann, Andrew Miall, Raymond Ingersoll, John Holbrook, Stephen Flint, and editor Ellen Thomas for their constructive reviews.


Dive into the research topics of 'Is the present the key to the past? A global characterization of modern sedimentary basins'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this