Organic matter (OM) accumulation in organic matter-rich mudstones, or black shales, is generally recognized to be controlled by combinations of bioproductivity, preservation, and dilution. However, specific triggers of OM deposition in these formations are commonly difficult to identify with geochemical proxies, in part because of feedbacks that cause geochemical proxies for these controls to vary synchronously. This apparent synchronicity is partly a function of sample spacing, commonly at decimeter to meter intervals, which may represent longer periods of time than is required for the development of feedbacks. Higher resolution data sets may be required to fully interpret OM accumulation.
This study applies a novel combination of technologies to develop a high-resolution geochemical data set, integrating energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) and infrared imagery analyses, to record proxies for redox conditions, bioproductivity, and clastic and carbonate dilution in millimeter-resolution profiles of 133 core slabs from the Middle and Upper Devonian Horn River shale in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, which provides decadal-scale temporal resolution. A comparison to a more coarsely sampled data set from the same core results in substantially different interpretations of variations in bioproductivity, redox, and dilution proxies. Stratigraphic distributions of organic matter accumulation patterns (bioproductivity-control, siliciclastic/carbonate-dilution, and redox conditions-control) show that organic enrichment events were highly varied during deposition of the shale and were closely related to second- and third-order sea-level changes. High-resolution profiles indicate that bioproductivity was the predominant trigger for organic matter accumulation in a second-order highstand, particularly during deposition of third-order transgressive systems tracts. Organic matter accumulation was largely controlled by dilution from either carbonate or clastic sediments in a second-order lowstand. Bioproductivity-redox feedbacks developed on timescales of decades to centuries.