Abstract

The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary is preserved in a sequence of coal-bearing, fluvial rocks in the lower part of the Raton Formation (Late Cretaceous and Paleocene) at several sites in the east-central part of the Raton Basin. The K-T boundary occurs at the top of a kaolinitic claystone layer, commonly referred to as the "boundary clay layer," in an interval of coal and carbonaceous shale. The boundary is defined by the disappearance of certain fossil-pollen taxa. The boundary clay layer also contains shocked quartz grains and abundance anomalies of iridium, chromium, and other elements. Each of these characteristics support the hypothesis of an asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous. Small goyazite spheres were also found in the boundary clay bed; however, their origin is uncertain. X-ray powder diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and thin-section petrography have shown that the boundary clay bed exhibits unique mineralogic and petrologic characteristics not possessed by other clay-rich beds in coal-bearing rocks of the Raton Basin. The boundary clay bed is composed primarily of well-crystallized kaolinite but also contains subordinate, randomly interstratified, mixed-layer illite/smectite, both of which appear to have been formed by the alteration of vitreous material in a coal-swamp environment. The bulk mineralogy of the boundary clay bed is similar to that of other kaolinite-rich clay beds (tonsteins) that altered in coal swamps from airfall volcanic ash. The alteration process and diagenetic products of the host material in the boundary clay bed, however, differed from those of the tonsteins, resulting in a unique petrographic fabric. The boundary clay bed is characterized by an overall imbricate fabric that may reflect an original vitreous material that included shards, bubbles, and spheres. The original fallout material of the boundary clay bed first altered to "cabbage-like" microspherules, indicating a halloysite or allophane precursor, and then to well-crystallized kaolinite; the well-crystallized kaolinite is the diagenetic stable phase for these rocks at their maximum burial conditions. In comparison, the vitreous components of the tonsteins were altered directly to coarse vermicular and platey kaolinite. Alteration of the original fallout material in the boundary bed was probably rapid, leading to hydrated, disordered, fine-grained clay minerals that formed into curled spherical or tubular shapes. The factors that produced these unique fabrics in the boundary clay bed existed at all K-T sites in the Raton Basin and were much different from those that formed the coarse platey and vermicular fabrics of ordinary tonsteins. The distinctive character of the boundary clay may be due to the unique nature and chemistry of the fallout material and (or) physical or chemical conditions existing shortly after its deposition.

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