Carbonate platforms can commonly keep up with relative sea-level rise because of high rates of sediment accumulation and platform aggradation. Surrounding basinal environments are commonly starved but can receive variable extrabasinal siliciclastic input and episodically deposited carbonate sediment. If accumulation rates in basinal settings lag behind those of the platform, a bypass or erosional margin can develop. Under these circumstances platform and basin depositional sequences become physically detached and direct correlation of basinal and platform sequences is hindered.
We report here the results of high-resolution stratigraphic analyses of two Upper Devonian isolated carbonate platforms in western Alberta that provide insight into the sequence stratigraphy of bypass margins and criteria for accurate correlation of platform and basinal sequences. The slope and basin sequences surrounding the Miette and Ancient Wall platforms consist of basin-restricted, onlapping wedges of fine-grained background sediment deposited dominantly from suspension and coarse-grained platform-derived sediment redeposited by a variety of gravity-flow mechanisms. Sequence boundaries are identified within the redeposited carbonate intervals. Identification of sequence boundaries and differentiation of highstand and lowstand slope and basinal facies was based on the geometry, mineralogy, and clast content of redeposited carbonate units. Highstand carbonates contain sheet-like debris flows and turbidites with abundant slope-derived clasts and background facies with high total carbonate content. Lowstand carbonates contain sheet-like and channelized debris flows and turbidites with abundant platform-derived clasts and background facies with low carbonate content and locally high amounts of organic carbon. Transgressive facies are dominated by initially carbonate-poor and organic-rich background sediments that display a progressive increase in carbonate content and decrease in organic carbon content. These patterns are interpreted to record abundant background carbonate sedimentation during late transgression and highstand when the carbonate factory was robust. Highstand redeposited carbonates record slope erosion due to oversteepening and slope readjustment processes. Lowstand redeposited carbonates indicate platform and platform-margin erosion and low background carbonate sedimentation when the platform was either exposed or under very shallow peritidal conditions. High siliciclastic and organic contents during lowstand and early transgression may partly be the result of reciprocal sedimentation but alternatively may represent continuous siliciclastic supply during times with little dilution by fine-grained carbonate sediment.
Successive stages of platform development at Miette and Ancient Wall were controlled by accommodation changes driven by relative sea-level fluctuations. Backstripping analyses of strata from both platforms confirm that significant differential subsidence was a major control on variations in platform thickness and patterns of slope development. Greater subsidence at Ancient Wall fostered the development of a steeper bypass margin and different slope evolution compared to Miette. Slope oversteepening also initiated a process of slope readjustment that eventually reduced the platform-to-basin gradient and facilitated regressive platform progradation.
In conventional siliciclastic sequence stratigraphy, basin-restricted wedges are interpreted as lowstand deposits on the basis of their geometry and position relative to an updip margin. Wedge-shaped basinal units along the Miette and Ancient Wall bypass margins contain both highstand and lowstand facies that straddle sequence boundaries. The results of this study provide objective criteria for differentiating systems tracts in carbonate slope and basin environments through mineralogic and compositional analyses providing more accurate correlation of detached platform and basin sequences. Interpretation of carbonate basin-restricted wedges as purely highstand or lowstand deposits may lead to erroneous conclusions regarding sequence stratigraphy, platform-to-basin correlation, and the volumetric partitioning of sediments deposited in different systems tracts.