Abstract

The transition between carbonate platforms or isolated carbonate buildups and overlying evaporites commonly is marked by assemblages of stromatolites and interlaminated carbonates and evaporites. Stromatolites display lamination textures that vary from peloidal and discontinuous on a scale of a millimeter to a few centimeters, to isopachous and continuously laminated on a scale of a centimeter to a few meters. The isopachous lamination texture may be composed of either: (1) micritic or radial-fibrous calcite, or (2) dolomite. Isopachous stromatolitic laminae are remarkably uniform, varying little in thickness over a given lateral distance, in contrast to stromatolites formed of peloidal laminae, which show marked variation in thickness over an equivalent lateral distance. These isopachous textures are uncommon on most open-marine carbonate platforms and apparently developed in transitional carbonate-to-evaporite settings because of increasing temperature, salinity, and anoxia related to water stratification, which would have created ecologic restriction and an opportunity for stromatolite growth. Stromatolites with isopachous lamination are here interpreted to have formed as a result of in situ precipitation of sea-floor-encrusting calcite and possibly dolomite, whereas the stromatolites composed of peloidal, discontinuous lamination are inferred to have formed by trapping and binding of loose carbonate sediment in microbial mats. While the presence of microbes in almost all near-surface environments nullifies use of the term "abiotic" to describe most precipitated minerals, we interpret growth of the isopachous stromatolites to have been dominated by chemogenic precipitation in the absence of microbial mats, and the growth of peloidal stromatolites to have been controlled by sedimentation in the presence of microbial mats.

These transitional stromatolite facies are best developed atop Proterozoic and Paleozoic carbonate platforms that underlie major evaporite successions. However, inspection of Jurassic and younger evaporite basins, such as the Messinian of the Mediterranean region, shows that stromatolites with thin, isopachous lamination and radial-fibrous textures, though present, are rare. Instead, these facies may have been replaced by stromatolites with peloidal, clastic textures and by low-diversity diatomaceous and coccolith mudstones. Accumulation of the mudstones would have imposed two important effects: (1) Production of coccoliths would have helped extract calcium carbonate from seawater, thus lowering the growth potential for precipitation of sea-floor-encrusting stromatolites. (2) Settling of both coccoliths and diatoms would have created a sediment flux to the sea floor, which would have served to impede growth of precipitated stromatolites because of smothering of growing crystals.

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