Carbonate concretions-explained

Jim D. Marshall*, Duncan Pirrie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Carbonate concretions are common features of sedimentary rocks of all geological ages. They are most obvious in sandstones and mudstones as ovoid bodies of rock that protrude from natural outcrops: clearly harder or better cemented than their host rocks. Many people are excited by finding fossils in the centre of mudstone-hosted concretions (Fig. 1) but spend little time wondering why the fossils are so well preserved. While the study of concretions has benefitted from the use of advanced analytical equipment, simple observations in the field can also help to answer many questions. For example, in cliff sections, original sedimentary beds and sedimentary structures can be traced right through concretions (Fig. 2): so it can be deduced that the concretion clearly formed after these depositional structures were laid down. In this article we explain how and where concretions form and discuss the evidence, ranging from outcrop data to sophisticated laboratory analyses, which can be used to determine their origins. The roles of microbes, decaying carcasses, compaction and groundwaters are highlighted. Concretions not only preserve fossils but can also subdivide oil, gas and water reservoirs into separate compartments. 1 An early diagenetic carbonate concretion split in half to reveal an ammonite retaining its original aragonite shell, from the Maastrichtian of Antarctica. Image courtesy of Alistair Crame (British Antarctic Survey, NERC). Lens cap is 6 cm. 2 Calcite cemented concretion standing proud from the otherwise poorly cemented sandstones. Large spherical concretions commonly occur in sandstones, where the porosity and permeability are equal in all directions. Jurassic, Bencliffe Grit, Osmington Mills, Dorset. Vertical thickness is 80 cm.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Specialist publicationGeology Today
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


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