Well-known difficulties in applying sequence stratigraphic concepts to deposits that accumulated across slowly subsiding cratonic interior regions have limited our ability to interpret the history of continental-scale tectonism, oceanographic dynamics of epeiric seas, and eustasy. We used a multi-disciplinary approach to construct a high-resolution stratigraphic framework for lower Paleozoic strata in the cratonic interior of North America. Within this framework, these strata proved readily amenable to modern sequence stratigraphic techniques that were formulated based on successions along passive margins and in foreland basins, settings markedly different from the cratonic interior. Parasequences, parasequence stacking patterns, systems tracts, maximum flooding intervals, and sequence-bounding unconformities can be confidently recognized in the cratonic interior using mostly standard criteria for identification. The similarity of cratonic interior and foreland basin successions in size, geometry, constituent facies, and local stacking patterns of nearshore parasequences is especially striking. This similarity indicates that the fundamental processes that establish shoreface morphology and determine the stratal expression of retreat and progradation were likewise generally the same, despite marked differences in tectonism, physiography, and bathymetry between the two settings.
Our results do not support the widespread perception that Paleozoic cratonic interior successions are so anomalous in stratal geometries, and constitute such a poor record of time, that they are poorly suited for modern sequence stratigraphic analyses. The particular arrangement of stratal elements in the cratonic interior succession we studied is no more anomalous or enigmatic than the variability in architecture that sets all sedimentary successions apart from one another. Thus, Paleozoic strata of the cratonic interior are most appropriately considered as a package that belongs in a continuum of variable stratigraphic packages reflecting variable controls such as subsidence and shelf physiography. Special conditions of exceptionally slow subsidence rate, shallow bathymetry, and nearly flat regional shelf gradient are manifest mostly by the presence of individual systems tracts of relatively long duration that extend for much greater distances across depositional strike than those that characterize successions deposited in more dynamic tectonic and physiographic settings. These results suggest that if other cratonic interior successions are as anomalous as reported, a low sediment supply may have played a primary role in development of their apparently condensed stratal architecture. The results also lead us to suggest that a nonvegetated lower Paleozoic landscape played a relatively insignificant role in the development of what are commonly perceived to be enigmatic stratigraphic features of sheet sandstones, particularly their widespread yet thin geometry, and a scarcity of shale and siltstone.