Three-Dimensional Morphometry of Ooids in Oolites: A New Tool for More Accurate and Precise Paleoenvironmental Interpretation

Bolton Howes, Akshay Mehra, Adam Maloof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The prevalence of ooids in the stratigraphic record, and their association with shallow-water carbonate environments, make ooids an important paleoenvironmental indicator. Recent advances in the theoretical understanding of ooid morphology, along with empirical studies from Turks and Caicos, Great Salt Lake, and The Bahamas, have demonstrated that the morphology of ooids is indicative of depositional environment and hydraulic conditions. To apply this knowledge from modern environments to the stratigraphic record of Earth’s history, researchers measure the size and shape of lithified ooids on two-dimensional surfaces (i.e., thin sections), often assuming that random 2D slices intersect the nuclei and that the orientation of the ooids is known. Here, we demonstrate that these assumptions rarely are true, resulting in errors of up to 35% for metrics like major axis length. We present a method for making 3D reconstructions by serial grinding and imaging, which enables accurate measurement of the morphology of individual ooids within an oolite, as well as the sorting and porosity of a sample. We also provide three case studies that use the morphology of ooids in oolites to extract environmental information. Each case study demonstrates that 2D measurements can be useful if the environmental signal is large relative to the error from 2D measurements. However, 3D measurements substantially improve the accuracy and precision of environmental interpretations. This study focuses on oolites, but errors from 2D measurements are not unique to oolites; this method can be used to extract accurate grain and porosity measurements from any coherent, granular sample.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JF005601
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geophysics


  • carbonate sedimentology
  • giant ooids
  • ooid
  • oolite
  • sedimentology
  • three-dimensional


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