The sedimentary rock reservoir both records and influences changes in Earth's surface environment. Geoscientists extract data from the rock record to constrain long-term environmental, climatic and biological evolution, with the understanding that geological processes of erosion and rock destruction may have overprinted some aspects of their results. It has also long been recognized that changes in the mass and chemical composition of buried sediments, operating in conjunction with biologically catalyzed reactions, exert a first-order control on Earth surface conditions on geologic timescales. Thus, the construction and destruction of the rock record has the potential to influence both how Earth and life history are sampled, and drive long-term trends in surface conditions that otherwise are difficult to affect. However, directly testing what the dominant process signal in the sedimentary record is — rock construction or destruction — has rarely been undertaken, primarily due to the difficulty of assembling data on the mass and age of rocks in Earth's crust. Here, we present results on the chronological age and general properties of rocks and sediments in the Macrostrat geospatial database (https://macrostrat.org). Empirical patterns in surviving rock quantity as a function of age are indicative of both continual cycling (gross sedimentation) and long-term sediment accumulation (net sedimentation). Temporal variation in the net sedimentary reservoir was driven by major changes in the ability of continental crust to accommodate sediments. The implied history of episodic growth of sediment mass on continental crust has many attendant implications for the drivers of long-term biogeochemical evolution of Earth and life.

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