Discontinuities in sedimentation are commonly expressed as surfaces in outcrop sections and are due to rapid and substantial environmental changes. On shallow-marine carbonate platforms most such surfaces represent hiatuses below biostratigraphic resolution, and detailed analysis is necessary to identify and evaluate the environmental change involved. Surfaces in nine sections of the Lower Cretaceous of the French and Swiss Jura platform are characterized on the basis of eight universally applicable criteria (geometry, lateral extent, morphology, biological activity, mineralization, facies contrast, diagenetic contrast, and biostratigraphy). Nine different surface types are distinguished by their common features and environment of formation. All of them are related to environmental changes in the form of subaqueous erosion, subaerial exposure, subaqueous omission, or changes in texture and facies. The distribution of surface types in the studied sections shows that condensation and exposure-related surfaces tend to occur repetitively in certain intervals. Calibrated by biostratigraphy, these surface zones can be correlated across the platform from proximal to distal positions. In comparison with the global sequence-stratigraphic framework (Hardenbol et al. 1997) most exposure zones correlate with third-order sequence boundaries; condensation zones fall in between. In the studied sections, third-order eustatic sea-level drops appear to be represented rather by zones of small-scale discontinuities than by widespread and well-marked single sequence boundaries. This is explained by the superposition of high-frequency, low-amplitude sea-level fluctuations on a larger-scale sea-level trend under greenhouse conditions. The lateral extent of the surface zones varies through time and indicates important changes in platform morphology. Changes in local subsidence rate indicated by variable thicknesses of the deposits in comparison with second- and third-order sea-level trends suggest an evolution of the French Jura platform from a ramp-type morphology in the late Middle Berriasian to a flat-topped platform in the Late Berriasian. The Early Valanginian again is characterized by increased differential subsidence and well-marked platform morphology. This study demonstrates that: (1) small-scale and short-lived discontinuities can reflect large-scale variations of relative sea level; (2) on shallow platforms characterized by small topographic variations and lateral facies changes, third-order sequence-stratigraphic surfaces are not necessarily expressed by one widespread single surface, but by zones of surfaces indicating repeated environmental changes; surface zones can serve as an additional tool for correlation and interpretation of platform evolution; and (3) small-scale discontinuities form an integral part of the stratigraphic record and should receive the same attention as the sedimentary deposits they delimit.

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