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how and where sedimentary strata have been deposited and preserved during Earth history.
The formation of sedimentary basins is ultimately controlled by topography that defines the surface depressions that receive the sediments, the elevated regions that provide sediment sources, and the topographic and bathymetric gradients that transport sediments from source to basin. Topography is ultimately governed by lateral variations in the thickness and density of crustal rocks coupled with global-scale flows in Earth's mantle. Through these geodynamic links to regional topography and sediment transport, research on basins overlaps almost the entire spectrum of earth sciences and thereby provides a unifying focus for research efforts in a wide range of subdisciplines.
The rock sequences that fill sedimentary basins can be viewed as a structural framework for exchange reactions among sediments, organic matter, and fluids, mainly water. These transformations yield the energy resources of petroleum, natural gas, coal, geothermal energy, and uranium and they lead to the precipitation of a wide range of ores for important metals such as copper, lead, zinc, iron, and mercury. The rock sequences are also the framework for aquifers, the most porous and permeable geologic units in the crust and the major reservoir for fresh water on Earth. Increasingly, these deposits are subjected to anthropogenic impacts because basins are the predominant repository for wastes from resource development and industrial production.
Because the characteristics and settings of basins are varied, research on sedimentary basins cuts across a wide range of scientific and engineering disciplines. Amidst these differences, however, two central themes emerge. First, the historic record of sedimentary basins has wide application for fundamental studies across the full span of the earth sciences. In recognition of the importance of basin data, there has been considerable effort to develop new technologies for measuring and interpreting the geochemical, tectonic, climatic, and biologic record of Earth history as preserved in basin fill. Second, sedimentary basins host many key natural resources, including fossil fuels, ground water, industrial minerals, and metallic ores. Consequently, there has been great interest in developing new multidisciplinary approaches for studying the generation and evolution of these resources in fluid-rock systems.