Proterozoic continental sedimentary basins contain a unique record of the evolving Earth in their sedimentology and stratigraphy and in the large-scale, redox-sensitive mineral deposits they host. The Paleoproterozoic (Stratherian) Kombolgie Basin, located on the Arnhem Land Plateau, Northern Territory, is an exceptionally well preserved, early part of the larger McArthur Basin in northern Australia. This intracratonic basin is filled with 1 to 2 km-thick, relatively undeformed, nearly flat-lying, siliciclastic rocks of the Kombolgie Subgroup. Numerous drill cores and outcrop exposures from across the basin allow sedimentary fabrics, structures, and stratigraphic relationships to be studied in great detail, providing an extensive stratigraphic framework and record of basin development and evolution.
Tectonic events controlled the internal stratigraphic architecture of the basin and led to the formation of three unconformity-bounded sequences that are punctuated by volcanic events. The first sequence records the onset of basin formation and is comprised of coarse-grained sandstone and polymict lithic conglomerate deposited in proximal braided rivers that transported sediment away from basin margins and intra-basin paleohighs associated with major uranium mineralization. Paleo-currents in the upper half of this lower sequence, as well as those of overlying sequences, are directed southward and indicate that the major intra-basin topographic highs no longer existed. The middle sequence has a similar pattern of coarse-grained fluvial facies, followed by distal fluvial facies, and finally interbedded marine and eolian facies. An interval marked by mud-rich, fine-grained sandstones and mud-cracked siltstones representing tidal deposition tops this sequence. The uppermost sequence is dominated by distal fluvial and marine facies that contain halite casts, gypsum nodules, stromatolites, phosphate, and “glauconite” (a blue-green mica group mineral), indicating a marine transgression. The repeating pattern of stratigraphic sequences initiated by regional tectonic events produced well-defined coarse-grained diagenetic aquifers capped by intensely cemented distal fluvial, shoreface, eolian, and even volcanic units, and led to a well-defined heterogenous hydrostratigraphy. Basinal brines migrated within this hydrostratigraphy and, combined with paleotopography, dolerite intrusion, faulting, and intense burial diagenesis, led to the economically important uranium deposits the Kombolgie Basin hosts.
Proterozoic sedimentary basins host many of Earth's largest high-grade iron and uranium deposits that formed in response to the initial oxygenation of the hydrosphere and atmosphere following the Great Oxygenation Event. Unconformity-related uranium mineralization like that found in the Kombolgie Basin highlights the interconnected role that oxygenation of the Earth, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and diagenesis played in creating these deposits.