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Carbonate mud is the equivalent of clay in terrigenous rocks and can form pure deposits (variously termed micrites, carbonate mudstones, lime mudstones, or calcimudstones on the carbonate side, and claystones or shales on the clastic terrigenous side). Clay-sized particles also act as matrix material that supports larger grains or are lodged interstitially between a self-supporting framework of larger grains. Decades ago, when both life and muds seemed pure and simple, both clays and carbonate muds were viewed as miniature versions of larger grains, acting primarily as reworked particles. It is now known that some clays are detrital, some are altered or neoformed on the seafloor, and some are precipitated during the long diagenetic history that accompanies burial, adding considerable complexity to the interpretation of terrigenous shaly deposits. The same is true on the carbonate side. Carbonate muds can be part of the spectrum of disintegration products of carbonate organisms, some can be formed by direct inorganic precipitation, and some may be formed in association with microbial metabolism. Furthermore, some may be primary sediment that responded to hydrodynamic forces during sediment formation and some may be precipitated interstitially, at or near the seafloor (through organic or inorganic processes), or during later diagenesis. It is even possible for grains to break down into smaller carbonate particles during diagenesis, or for diagenetic conversion of former carbonate mud to a mosaic of coarser calcite crystals (microspar). Although we have learned much over the past decades about mud-sized materials, we are far from having a full understanding of them. We also have not yet developed reliable criteria for the consistent distinction between organically produced and inorganically precipitated materials, or even between detrital particles and authigenic precipitates.

Micrite - An abbreviation of “microcrystalline calcite”. The term is used both as a synonym for carbonate mud (or “ooze”) and for a rock composed of carbonate mud (calcilutite). Micrite consists of 1 to 4 μm-diameter crystals and forms as an inorganic precipitate or through breakdown of coarser carbonate grains. Micrite is produced within the basin of deposition and shows little or no evidence of significant transport (Folk, 1959).

Microspar - Generally 5- to 20-μm-sized calcite produced by recrystallization (neomorphism) of micrite; can be as coarse as 30 μm (Folk, 1965). Restricted to recrystallization products, not primary precipitates.

Pseudospar - A neomorphic (recrystallization) calcite fabric with average crystal size larger than 30-50 μm (Folk, 1965).

Modern marine shelfal carbonate mud is mainly aragonite (with some high-Mg calcite); deep-sea chalk oozes are low-Mg calcite as are most lacustrine calcareous muds. The composition of carbonate muds produced from breakdown of skeletal material are clearly controlled by the mineralogy of those organisms. Paleozoic shells were generally more calcitic than the aragonite-dominated shelled fauna of the modern world. Furthermore, even the mineralogy of “inorganic” marine precipitates (muds as well as cements) is now known to have varied throughout geologic time (Lasemi and Sandberg, 1984, 1993).

  1. Modern carbonate mud consists largely of the breakdown products of organisms (due to decomposition of organic binding materials and abrasion or maceration of shells). Macroscopic algae (especially green algae) are major contributors of needle-shaped, mud-sized, aragonitic particles in tropical platform and platform margin settings. Modern inorganic aragonitic precipitates, in the water column or on the seafloor, also are needle-like (with individual crystals typically 3-5 μm in length) and may contribute to carbonate muds.

  2. The calcitic micrite of older carbonate rocks was neomorphically formed from mixed mineralogy precursors to form an equant mosaic of 1- to 4-μm crystals. The precursor material acted as detrital particles and so may show geopetal fabrics, scattered coarser particles, and other indications of mechanical sedimentation. Inclusions or molds of precursor minerals may be seen within micritic calcites (especially using SEM).

  3. Neoformed microcrystalline cement and microbial precipitates may show clotted or peloidal fabrics and can grow in any position within interparticle pores or larger cavities (non-geopetal fabrics).

  4. Microspar and pseudospar typically have patchy distributions grading into normal micrite; crystal outlines tend to be elongate (loaf-shaped) or have irregular, sutured boundaries).

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