Mixed-layer illite-smectite samples from the Ordovician and Silurian K-bentonites of the Baltic Basin and the Baltic Shield (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Estonia) were dated by K-Ar on several grain fractions and were studied by X-ray diffraction (XRD), both on oriented and random preparations, in order to reveal the conditions of smectite illitization in the area. Authigenic K-feldspar was also dated. The geographic pattern of the degree of illitization (% smectite in illite-smectite measured by XRD) is consistent with other indicators of palaeotemperatures (acritarchs, conodont alteration index, vitrinite reflectance, apatite fission track ages). It reveals the highest maximum palaeotemperatures (up to at least 200°C) along the Norwegian and the German-Polish branches of the Caledonides and the lowest palaeotemperatures (120°C) in the central part of the studied area. The distribution of K-Ar ages is not well correlated with this pattern, revealing a zone of older ages (Lower Devonian-Lower Carboniferous) between Denmark and Estonia, and areas of younger ages (Upper Devonian to Carboniferous/Permian boundary) to the north and south of this zone. The zone of older ages is interpreted as the result of illitization induced by a thermal event in front of the Caledonian orogenic belt (migration of hot metamorphic fluids?). The areas of younger ages are considered as representing deep burial illitization under a thick Silurian-Carboniferous sedimentary cover, perhaps augmented by a tectonic load. The K-Ar dates invalidate the hypothesis of a long-lasting low-temperature illitization as the mechanism of formation of the Estonian Palaeozoic illite-smectite. The ammonium content of illite-smectite from the Baltic K-bentonites reflects the proximity of organic-rich source rocks that underwent thermal alteration at the time of illite crystallization.

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