Spatial, temporal and geographic considerations of the problem of rock varnish diagenesis

Ronald Dorn, David Krinsley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The rock varnish literature hosts an abundance of prima facie contradictory empirical data. Past and perhaps future empirical contradictions, however, can be resolved by theoretical considerations of different spatial and temporal scales of varnish diagenesis, as well as the geomorphic position of different types of varnishes. For example, twentieth-century contamination by lead and other heavy metals has led to claims of accumulation rates in the last century far more rapid than prior published empirical studies. A consideration of spatial scales resolves this contradiction; nanoscale processes allow migration of lead into varnish deposited well before the twentieth century time of heavy metal pollution. Evidence of nanometer-scale disequilibrium in three samples led to claims that varnish cannot be used in paleoclimatic research; these data rest in contrast to replicable patterns in varnish deposition observed by Dr. Tanzhuo Liu and others in over ten thousand micro-sedimentary basins. This contraction can be resolved by understanding that the types of varnishes studied differ and that processes differ substantially between the nanoscale and the micron scale. A lack of evidence of Mn-oxidizers in genetic analyses contrasts with culturing studies and in situ evidence of Mn-enhancement by bacteria. This contradiction has a likely resolution in vastly different temporal scales; DNA material analyzed may be no older than 200. years, but in situ fossilized remains of bacteria may be preserved for thousands of years recording palaeoecological conditions favoring growth of Mn-enhancing bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-99
Number of pages9
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011


  • Desert varnish
  • Epistemology
  • Palaeoenvironment
  • Philosophy of science
  • Rock varnish
  • Weathering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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