Abstract

Field studies coupled with computer modelling of carbonate cycles in the Elbrook-Conococheague Formations (Middle to Upper Cambrian) in the Appalachians have helped define the mechanisms of formation. The sequence is up to 1.6 km thick and composed of cyclic, peritidal carbonates. These formed on an aggraded, rimmed shelf on a mature, passive continental margin. The cycles (1-7 m thick) have lower parts of subtidal/intertidal carbonate and caps of dolomitic laminite containing minor quartz arenite, shale and breccia. Sedimentation rates for these peritidal carbonate environments exceeded long-term subsidence of the platform (0.01 to 0.1 m/1,000 yr), thus, the shelf stayed near to sea level (i.e., was aggraded). Milankovitch (20,000 to 100,000 yr), low-amplitude sea-level fluctuations (few meters) superimposed on 3rd-order sea-level fluctuation of 1 to 3 m.y. duration and less than 20 m amplitude caused periodic submergence of the gently sloping platform (less than 0.02 m/km slopes), resulting in deposition of over 400 peritidal cycles in about 26 m.y. Cycles that formed during 3rd-order sea-level rise are thick and limestone-rich, whereas those formed during 3rd-order fall are thin, quartzose, and highly dolomitized. The modelling suggests that fewer and thinner cycles formed during the long-term falls compared to the rises, reflecting decreased accommodation. Cycle-frequency decreases into areas of lower subsidence rate. Open-marine cycles typical of the outer shelf and cycles formed during 3rd-order sea-level rise contain digitate bioherms, grainstone, and ribbon carbonates in lower parts. They reflect high subsidence rate and an open-marine setting. Inner shelf cycles and cycles that formed during 3rd-order sea-level fall commonly are thrombolitic, or have thin subtidal parts (grainstone, conglomerate or stromatolite) and reflect the low subsidence rates. Interior areas of Quaternary carbonate shelves are characterized by "incipiently" drowned facies and pinnacle reefs and are punctuated by soil/caliche horizons and karst surface that reflect 100 m glacio-eustatic sea-level fluctuations. In contrast, many ancient shelves, like the Cambro-Ordovician shelf of the Appalachians, were flat-topped and dominated by cyclic peritidal sequences lacking evidence of high amplitude sea-level fluctuations. Such aggraded shelves may represent the typical state of mature carbonate shelves that formed in response to low-amplitude Milankovitch sea-level fluctuations as opposed to the large-scale fluctuations that typified the Quaternary.

First Page Preview

First page PDF preview
You do not currently have access to this article.