Pennsylvanian glacioeustatic cyclothems exposed in Kansas and adjacent areas provide a unique opportunity to test models of the impact of relative sea level and climate on stratal architecture. A succession of eight of these high-frequency sequences, traced along dip for 500 km, reveal that modest climate shifts from relatively dry-seasonal to relatively wet-seasonal with a duration of several sequences (~600,000 to 1 million years) had a dominant impact on facies, sediment dispersal patterns, and sequence architecture. The climate shifts documented herein are intermediate, both in magnitude and duration, between previously documented longer-term climate shifts throughout much of the Pennsylvanian and shorter-term shifts described within individual sequences.
Climate indicators are best preserved at sequence boundaries and in incised-valley fills of the lowstand systems tracts (LST). Relatively drier climate indicators include high-chroma paleosols, typically with pedogenic carbonates, and plant assemblages that are dominated by gymnosperms, mostly xerophytic walchian conifers. The associated valleys are small (<2 km wide and <11 m deep) and are commonly filled with locally derived limestone clasts, which indicate small drainage networks. Relatively wetter climates are indicated by locally preserved paleosols exhibiting both low-chroma and high-chroma variants, common coals, and plant assemblages that are dominated by fern foliage, seed ferns, and sphenopsids. The incised-valley fills associated with these facies are large (>4 km wide and >20 m deep), and dominated by quartz sandstones derived from distant source areas, reflecting large drainage networks.
Transgressive systems tracts (TST) in all eight sequences generally are characterized by thin, extensive limestones and thin marine shales, suggesting that the dominant control on TST facies distribution was the sequestration of siliciclastic sediment in updip positions. Highstand systems tracts (HST) were significantly impacted by the intermediate-scale climate cycle in that HSTs from relatively drier climates consist of thin marine shales overlain by extensive, thick regressive limestones, whereas HSTs from relatively wetter climates are dominated by thick marine shales.
Previously documented relative sea-level changes do not track the climate cycles, indicating that climate played a role distinct from that of relative sea-level change. These intermediate-scale modest climate shifts had a dominant impact on sequence architecture. This independent measure of climate and relative sea level may allow the testing of models of climate and sediment supply based on modern systems.