The Sebree Trough is a relatively narrow, shale-filled sedimentary feature extending for several hundred kilometers across the Middle and Late Ordovician carbonate platform of the Midcontinent United States. The dark graptolitic shales within the trough stand in contrast to the coeval bryozoan-brachiopod-echinoderm– rich limestones on the flanking platforms. We infer from regional stratal patterns, thickness and facies trends, and temporal relations established by biostratigraphy and K-bentonite stratigraphy that the Sebree Trough initially began to develop during late Turinian to early Chatfieldian time (Mohawkian Series) as a linear bathymetric depression situated over the failed late Precambrian–Early Cambrian Reelfoot Rift. Rising sea level and positioning of a subtropical convergence zone along the southern margin of Laurentia caused the rift depression to descend into cool, oxygen-poor, phosphate-rich oceanic waters that entered the southern reaches of the rift from the Iapetus Ocean. The trough apparently formed in a system of epicontinental estuarine circulation marked by a density- stratified water column. Trough formation was accompanied by cessation of carbonate sedimentation, deposition of graptolitic shales, development of hardground omission surfaces, substrate erosion, and local phosphogenesis. The carbonate platforms on either side of the trough are dominated by bryozoan-brachiopod- echinoderm grainstones and packstones that were deposited in zones of mixing where cool, nutrient-rich waters encountered warmer shelf waters. Concurrently, lime mudstone and wackestone were deposited shoreward (northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan) in warmer, more tropical shallow seas. Coeval upward growth of the flanking carbonate platforms sustained and enhanced development of the trough shale facies.
Five widespread diachronous late Mohawkian and Cincinnatian omission surfaces are present in the carbonate facies of the Midcontinent. These surfaces include sub-Deicke K-bentonite, DS1; top of Black River Limestone, DS2; base and top of the Guttenberg Limestone Member of the Decorah Formation, DS3 and DS4; and top of the Trenton Limestone, DS5. Some of the surfaces correspond to previously described depositional sequence boundaries. All five surfaces, which embody deepening phases on top of highstand-systems tracts, converge in the Sebree Trough, indicating that the trough was a long-lived feature and was the source of eutrophic waters that episodically spread across the adjacent platforms, terminating carbonate production. Late Turinian and early Chatfieldian incipient drowning episodes were followed by a final drowning event that began in the Sebree Trough during the late Chatfieldian (Climacograptus spiniferus Zone) and reached southernmost Minnesota and other regions far within the platform interior by Richmondian time (Amorphognathus ordovicicus Zone).