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History of the Redwall Limestone of Northern Arizona

By
Edwin D. Mckee
Edwin D. Mckee
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Raymond C. Gutschick
Raymond C. Gutschick
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Published:
January 01, 1969

Throughout most of northern Arizona the Redwall Limestone of Mississippian age is readily divisible into four lithologic units, designated in ascending order as the Whitmore Wash, Thunder Springs, Mooney Falls, and Horseshoe Mesa Members. The first and third members are thick-bedded to massive carbonate rock. The Horseshoe Mesa Member is relatively thin-bedded limestone, and the Thunder Springs Member is distinctive because it consists of chert beds alternating with thin beds of carbonate rock.

Trends in thickness of the various members indicate that the sediment that formed the Redwall was deposited on an even, gently sloping shelf that extended westward from the Defiance positive element, a low landmass located near the present eastern border of northern Arizona. The Peach Springs and Payson ridges projected west and southwest, respectively, from the positive element. These ridges, which were partly submerged and partly above sea level during Mississippian time, are indicated by the patterns of isopach lines and, in part, by the distribution of faunas. The ridges divided the Arizona section of the shelf into three segments: the northern-most, which slopes northwest toward the Cordilleran geosyncline, and the other two, which slope toward the south and southwest.

Two transgressions and two regressions of the western and southern seaways are believed to be represented by the Redwall. The first transgression, which is recorded by thick beds of clastic sediment of the Whitmore Wash Member, was less extensive than the second, which is recorded by massive beds of the Mooney Falls Member, for on the western margins of the Defiance positive element the Mooney Falls Member overlaps the two lower members. Furthermore, south of Grand Canyon the Whitmore Wash and Thunder Springs Members lap against the Payson ridge without covering it, whereas the Mooney Falls Member, although relatively thin, extends across it. Regression is believed to be represented by thin beds of the Thunder Springs and Horseshoe Mesa Members, which are interpreted to be the result of low base level caused by silting up with clastic material and consequent retreat of the sea.

Cycles in sedimentation are well developed in some parts of the Redwall, especially in the upper two members in which differences in grain size represent five major cycles recognized throughout the extent of the Grand Canyon. These textural differences, ranging from aphanitic to coarse grained, are considered to be not measures of the amount of transportation, as with terrigenous sediments, but reflections of the degree of turbulence or the lack of turbulence during deposition.

They are interpreted as indicators of cyclic fluctuations in environment, probably related to changes in wave base.

Several clearly defined facies within the Redwall indicate environments of deposition. The clastic limestone that forms a major part of the formation, especially in the offshore areas to the west and south, is believed to represent normal marine conditions where circulation was good and turbulence moderate to strong. Uniform finely crystalline dolomite probably developed through early diagenetic processes on the sea floor. On the basis of its distribution pattern the dolomite seems to have formed under shoal conditions, especially where it borders the shore of the Defiance positive element and along Peach Springs ridge. Oölitic limestone at the top of both major transgressive units is interpreted as reflecting the oscillatory conditions of sea level that provided wave and current agitation at times of maximum sea advance in shoal areas bordering the ridges. Aphanitic limestone, representing accumulations of lime mud, seems to be developed best in the uppermost, or Horseshoe Mesa, member, where, as the seas regressed, nearshore waters may have been isolated and certainly were very calm.

Original textures and some structures are preserved in most limestones of the Redwall, and they give much evidence concerning oceanographic factors of the time. Generalizations have been developed concerning the character of the bottom, degrees of energy represented, depth, salinity, and other factors for various parts of the formation. Although these factors differed greatly with time and space, the general conclusions reached are that (1) depths were very shallow to moderate, (2) the sea floor was composed nearly entirely of lime mud and lime sand, which contained no terrigeneous material but with great crinoidal accumulations locally, (3) turbulence ranged from considerable to none, and (4) the sea was clear and warm and nowhere contained saline concentrations sufficient to form evaporites.

Chert forming thin irregular beds, locally lenticular and nodular, occurs at two prinicpal positions in the stratigraphic section, and in each it alternates with thin beds of carbonate rock. Chert is prominent throughout the Thunder Springs Member and forms thin but definite zones near the top of the Mooney Falls Member. This chert is believed to have formed on the sea floor during early diagenesis, as evidenced by petrography, paleogeography, and faunal relations. Regional differences in the abundance and type of associated fossils, recorded on a series of 4-foot-square sample plots made throughout the Grand Canyon, suggest a probable relation between fossil distribution and genesis of the chert.

The fauna of the Redwall is abundant and varied, but preservation in many places is poor, and numerous specimens can be collected only locally. The most common fossils are brachiopods, corals, foraminifers, and crinoids, but blastoids, gastropods, cephalopods, and pelecypods are not rare. Bryozoans are abundant in the chert of the Thunder Springs Member but uncommon elsewhere. Other organisms locally distributed but not common are algae, trilobites, fish, holothurians, and ostracodes. These groups have been studied by specialists and are the subject of Chapters V through XIII.

Certain of the faunal groups, notably the corals and foraminifers, show some degree of vertical zoning and so have furnished important data on age and correlation. Among the corals, the zones of Dorlodotia inconstans and Michelinia expansa are especially significant because of their persistence from section to section across broad areas. The foraminiferal zones are broader and less sharply defined, but they represent a series of major changes in species from bottom to top of the formation.

Age determination made on the basis of foraminifers and brachiopods indicate that the base of the Redwall is progressively younger as it passes from areas that were offshore eastward or northward toward the Defiance positive element; the top of the Redwall, in contrast, is shown to be progressively younger away from the positive element. Thus basal beds of Kinderhook age are recognized at Grand Wash, Quartermaster, and Meriwitica Canyons to the northwest, but the lowest strata are of Osage age at Bridge Canyon, Grandview, and other sections closer to the landmass. Likewise, units with fossils of middle Meramec age occur in western Grand Canyon, but, except in the one place discussed in the following paragraph, topmost beds farther east in Grand Canyon are of Osage age. South of Grand Canyon the youngest member of the Redwall (Horseshoe Mesa) has been removed by pre-Supai Formation erosion.

Rocks still younger than the Horseshoe Mesa once may have covered the entire region, possibly representing a third sequence of transgression and regression. At Bright Angel trail in eastern Grand Canyon, for example, a unique unit at the top of the Redwall section contains fossils of Chester age and apparently represents a remnant of Late Mississippian rocks that survived as an inlier there.

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GSA Memoirs

History of the Redwall Limestone of Northern Arizona

Edwin D. McKee
Edwin D. McKee
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Raymond C. Gutschick
Raymond C. Gutschick
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Geological Society of America
Volume
114
ISBN print:
9780813711140
Publication date:
January 01, 1969

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