Stratal patterns of the Middle Ordovician Hagan K-bentonite complex and associated rocks show that the Black River–Trenton unconformity in the North American midcontinent formed through the complex interplay of eustasy, sediment accumulation rates, siliciclastic influx, bathymetry, seawater chemistry, and perhaps local tectonic uplift. The unconformity is diachronous and is an amalgamated surface that resulted from local late Turinian lowstand exposure followed by regional early Chatfieldian transgressive drowning and sediment starvation. The duration of the unconformity is greatest in southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and northern Indiana, where the Deicke and Millbrig K-bentonite Beds converge at the unconformity. On the basis of published isotopic ages for the Deicke and Millbrig beds, it is possible that in these regions erosion and nondeposition spanned a period of as much as 3.2 m.y.
Two broad coeval depositional settings are recognized within the North American midcontinent during early Chatfieldian time. (1) An inner shelf, subtidal facies of fossiliferous shale (Spechts Ferry Shale Member and Ion Shale Member of the Decorah Formation) and argillaceous lime mudstone and skeletal wackestone (Guttenberg and Kings Lake Limestone Members) extended from the Canadian shield and Transcontinental arch southeastward through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. (2) A seaward, relatively deep subtidal, sediment-starved, middle shelf extended eastward from the Mississippi Valley region to the Taconian foreland basins in the central and southern Appalachians and southward through the pericratonic Arkoma and Black Warrior basins. In the inner shelf region, the Black River–Trenton unconformity is a composite of at least two prominent hardground omission surfaces, one at the top of the Castlewood and Carimona Limestone Members and the other at the top of the Guttenberg and Kings Lake Limestone Members, both merging to a single surface in the middle shelf region. The inner and middle shelves redeveloped later in approximately the same regions during Devonian and Mississippian time.