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The Elatina varves controversy

G.E. Williams, an australian geologist published in 1981 on a varve deposit site, called the "Elatina formation", in the Flinders range, australia. The site is dated from the Marinoan glaciation, 680 MYears ago (late precambrian) : see this publication in
G.E. Williams, 1981, Nature 291, 624-628.

To have a good view of the deposits, three drills were made in december 1982. From the three logs, a complete time series of varve thickness was obtained, working on photographs of sections. The analysis of the time series was then done on a computer. This part of the job was done at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, at University of Arizona, Tucson.

C.P. Sonett published the results in 1984 :
Rev geophysics and space physics 22, 239-254)
Nature 307 , 141-143

G.E. Williams and C.P. Sonett published together a more complete description, with an analysis of the thickness signals, in 1985 :
Nature 318, 523-527

All these publications claimed that the cyclicity found in the Elatina formation was the result of the solar cycles, as they were at precambrian time similar but a little different of what they are now. Each varve would result of an annual deposit, the modulation effect depending on the climate, itself related to the solar cycle.

In 1988, the doubt came : a new tidal hypothese had been issued that could explain also the Elatina signals. G.E. Williams published at that time under the title : "Cyclicity in the late Precambrian Elatina Formation, South Australia: solar or tidal signature? ".(See complete ref below).
Sonett, on his side, published with Finey and C.R. Williams (no relation with G.E. Williams), under the title "The lunar orbit in the late precambrian and the Elatina sandstone laminae".
Nature, 335, 806-808.0
This last paper claimed for the evidence of a lunar signal : the Elatina formation would result of a luni-solar interaction model, the deposits being not of glacio-lacustrine origin but would come from a fast rate, with two varves per day, in a river embayment submitted to a tidal hydro-dynamical process.

When I made my solar tidal hypothese, having as one of my starting points the 1985 paper claiming for a solar signal in the Elatina formation, I was impressed by the regularity of the signal and pushed to search towards an astronomical process to explain it. It's one of the source of my VeEaJu syzygie hypothese. As explained in this W3 publication, I could not publish at that time. I must say that I didn't find the 1988 paper in Nature which could have stopped me in my research... I was just told that two years later by one of the referees, as my paper was submitted to a geophysics review. Everybody had converted to the lunar explanation, and I was still trying to give a solar one. I'm still wondering if the conversion process took it's origine in some strong environment reason. I know almost nothing on geology and cannot judge of a discussion about a 10 m sequence of rocks, tending to decide beetween a rapid deposit process in a river embayment, during a 53 years time, or a slow 19000 years lacustrine process.

I will just say now that I am not convinced, for the following reasons :

Here is my opinion. I hope that this will make the controversy advance. I am gratefull to G.E. Williams (University of Adelaide, Australia) and C.P. Sonett (LPL, University of Arizona, Tucson) for the informations they gave me. I would be even more grateful if their administrations could answer favourably my demand to have a file of the raw data of the varve thickness signals.

Additional bibliography

Thanks to G.E. Williams who mailed me the following bibliography on the topic :

Williams, G.E., 1987. Cosmic signals laid down in stone. New Scientist, 114 (1566), 63-66.

Williams, G.E., 1988. Cyclicity in the late Precambrian Elatina Formation, South Australia: solar or tidal signature? Climatic Change, 13, 117-128.

Williams, G.E., 1989. Late Precambrian tidal rhythmites in South Australia and the history of the Earth's rotation. Journal of the Geological Society of London, 146, 97-111.

Williams, G.E., 1989. Precambrian tidal sedimentary cycles and Earth's paleorotation. Eos (Transactions of the American Geophysical Union), 70, 33 & 40-41.

Williams, G.E., 1989. Tidal rhythmites: geochronometers for the ancient Earth-Moon system. Episodes, 12, 162-171.

Williams, G.E., 1990. Precambrian cyclic rhythmites: solar-climatic or tidal signatures? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, A, 330, 445-458.

Williams, G.E., 1990. Tidal rhythmites: key to the history of the Earth's rotation and the lunar orbit. Journal of Physics of the Earth, 38, 475-491.

Williams, G.E., 1991. Upper Proterozoic tidal rhythmites, South Australia: sedimentary features, deposition, and implications for the Earth's paleorotation. In Clastic Tidal Sedimentology, D.G. Smith, G.E. Reinson, B.A. Zaitlin and R.A. Rahmani (Editors). Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists Memoir, 16, 161-177.

Williams, G.E., 1994. History of Earth's rotation and the Moon's orbit: a key datum from Precambrian tidal strata in Australia. Australian Journal of Astronomy, 20, 135-147.

Williams, G.E., 1989. Precambrian tidal rhythmites and the Earth's paleorotation. 28th International Geological Congress, Washington, DC, July 1989, Abstracts, 3, 361.

Williams, G.E., 1989. Precambrian tidal rhythmites: implications for the history of the Earth's rotation and the lunar orbit. Second International Research Symposium on Clastic Tidal Deposits. University of Calgary, 22-25 August 1989, Abstracts, p. 96.

Williams, G.E., 1990. Tidal rhythmites and the Earth's palaeorotation. Todai International Symposium, "A Newer View of the Earth", University of Tokyo, August 1990, Abstracts, pp. 25-26.

Williams, G.E., 1992. Precambrian tidal rhythmites and the Earth's palaeorotation. 11th Australian Geological Convention, Ballarat, January 1992. Geological Society of Australia Abstracts, 32, 297-299.

Williams, G.E., 1995. Earth's past rotation and moment of inertia and the Moon's orbital evolution: a benchmark datum from Neoproterozoic (620 Ma) tidal strata in Australia. XXI General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, Boulder, Colorado, July 1995, Abstracts.


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