pISSN 0705-3797 eISSN 2586-1298
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Episodes 2024; 47(1): 85-98

Published online March 1, 2024


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

Uniformitarianism, and its converse ‘the key to fully documenting the present is the past’ – principles and case studies that are applicable at various scales

Penelope Clifford1*, Vic Semeniuk1,2

1School of Arts & Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, Australia
2V. & C. Semeniuk Research Group, Warwick, WA 6024, Australia

Correspondence to:*Email: p.clifford@iinet.net.au

Received: September 4, 2023; Revised: October 12, 2023; Accepted: October 12, 2023

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Uniformitarianism, summarised as ‘the present is the key to the past’, has been successfully applied to interpret the geological record. An important variation of this principle is that while the present can be the key to interpreting the past, the past can be useful to more comprehensively and holistically document the present. In this study, for the first time, these principles are explored at two scales: macroscopically/mesoscopically where traditionally Uniformitarianism has been applied (in this paper, using coastal beach-to-dune stratigraphy, and by bubble sand, small-scale sedimentary structures, and silt-sized inter-granular deposits therein), and ultra-microscopically (using patina, a thin crust on weathered glass). The validity of the scalar variation has relevance to interpreting beach sequences where individual lithological, micro-lithological, structural, and micro-structural features in modern beach-to-dune systems are described and compared with ‘fossil’ sequences. Expression of Uniformitarianism also occurs at ultra-small-scales in patina using ~ 100-year-old glass found at Cossack, Western Australia and experimentally-produced ultra-microscopic patina. Features of ‘mature’ patina and glass corrosion have been highlighted through geochemical and hydrochemical processes, and these have been compared with corrosion and incipient, early-stage development of experimentally-produced ultra-microscopic patina.