The South China Craton experienced large changes in climate, eustasy and environmental conditions during the Late Ordovician Hirnantian Ice Age, but their impact on the watermass architecture of the Yangtze Sea has not yet been thoroughly evaluated. Here, we reconstruct the salinity–redox structure of the Yangtze Sea based on five Upper Ordovician–Lower Silurian shale successions representing a lateral transect from a deep-water area of the Inner Yangtze Sea (IYS; Shuanghe section) across the shallow Hunan–Hubei Arch (Pengye, Jiaoye and Qiliao sections) to the relatively deep-water Outer Yangtze Sea (OYS; Wangjiawan section). Carbon isotope (δ13Corg) profiles show that the Guanyinqiao Bed (recording the peak Hirnantian glaciation) thins and is less completely preserved at sites on the flanks of the Hunan–Hubei Arch than in deeper water areas to the SW and NE, reflecting bathymetric influences. Watermass salinities were mainly marine at Shuanghe and brackish at the other four study sites, with little variation among Interval I (pre-glaciation), Interval II (Hirnantian glaciation) and Interval III (post-glaciation). Redox proxies document mainly euxinia at Shuanghe and Wangjiawan and suboxia at the other sites during Interval I, with shifts towards more reducing (mostly euxinic) conditions at most sites during Intervals II and III, which shows that all the study sections were deep enough to remain below the redoxcline during the glacio-eustatic lowstand. Two features of the Shuanghe section mark it as being unusual: it alone exhibits fully marine salinities, implying greater proximity to the open ocean than the other four sites, and it exhibits an especially large shift towards more reducing conditions during Interval III (i.e. the post-Hirnantian transgression), implying greater water depths. These features are difficult to reconcile with the standard palaeogeographical model for the Ordovician–Silurian South China Craton, which is characterized by a geographically enclosed and restricted IYS and a more open OYS, arguing instead for the SW end of the IYS to have been connected to the global ocean and the OYS to have been a restricted oceanic cul-de-sac. A review of sedimentological and facies data for the IYS region suggests that our re-interpretation of the Ordovician–Silurian palaeogeography of the South China Craton is viable, although further vetting of this hypothesis is needed.

Supplementary material: The dataset and the full crossplot of Sr/Ba v. CaO for this study are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.7170648

Thematic collection: This article is part of the Chemical Evolution of the Mid-Paleozoic Earth System and Biotic Response collection available at: https://www.lyellcollection.org/topic/collections/chemical-evolution-of-the-mid-paleozoic-earth-system

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