In geology, a key bed (syn marker bed) is a relatively thin layer of sedimentary rock that is readily recognized on the basis of either its distinct physical characteristics or fossil content and can be mapped over a very large geographic area. As a result, a key bed is useful for correlating sequences of sedimentary rocks over a large area. Typically, key beds were created as the result of either instantaneous events or (geologically speaking) very short episodes of the widespread deposition of a specific types of sediment. As the result, key beds often can be used for both mapping and correlating sedimentary rocks and dating them. Volcanic ash beds (tonsteins and bentonite beds) and impact spherule beds, and specific megaturbidites are types of key beds created by instantaneous events. The widespread accumulation of distinctive sediments over a geologically short period of time have created key beds in the form of peat beds, coal beds, shell beds, marine bands, black shales in cyclothems, and oil shales. A well-known example of a key bed is the global layer of iridium-rich impact ejecta that marks the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary (K–T boundary).
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