Controls on mudstone deposition at high latitudes are poorly known relative to low latitudes. In recent sediments deposited in these environments, ice significantly influences sediment transport and primary productivity. The products of ice transport are relatively well known in glacimarine settings, but are less well known from below melting sea ice. This latter setting is significant as today it is associated with high primary organic productivity. The aim of this study is to assess how sea ice might have controlled lithofacies variability and organic-matter distribution and preservation in an ancient marine, siliciclastic mudstone-dominated succession deposited at high latitudes.
Combined sedimentary logging, optical and electron optical (backscattered electron imagery), geochemical, and isotopic methods were used to determine sample variability in forty-five samples collected from the Lower Cretaceous succession in the Mikkelsen Bay State #1 borehole (North Slope, Alaska). The succession overall fines upward and contains muddy sandstones and sand- and silt-bearing, clay-rich mudstones towards its base in contrast to clay-rich and clay-dominated mudstones towards its top. Some of the mudstone units exhibit thin (< 5 mm), relic-beds that fine upward weakly. In some units small (0.5 mm), bed-parallel silt-filled microburrows disrupt depositional laminae whereas in others pervasive burrowing completely obliterates original depositional textures. Many of the units are pelleted. These mudstones are unusual in that they contain minor but very striking outsize grains, composed of subrounded to rounded sand and granule-size material. In addition, they are good petroleum source rocks, with between 2.8 and 5.9 wt % total organic carbon, of predominantly Type II kerogen. The organic matter has an isotopic signature ranging from −25.4‰ δ13C to −28.1‰ δ13C. Thin tuffs (< 20 mm) and carbonate-cemented units are also present.
Given the absence of significant polar ice in the Early Cretaceous the outsized grains are interpreted to have been deposited from a combination of melting, dirty anchor, and fast ice. The mud fraction, which forms the bulk of the sediment, is interpreted to have been deposited from melting, sediment-laden frazil ice, and fast ice. After deposition sediments were partially reworked by bottom currents generated by brine rejection during sea ice formation. Sympagic organisms, grazing on algae and bacteria both within and below the ice, pelleted the sediment. Bioturbation, which varies through the succession, indicates that sedimentation probably occurred beneath a predominantly oxic or dys-oxic water column. In this setting productivity was fueled by nutrients released from melting sea ice in the marginal ice zone. The good petroleum source potential of these mudstones is attributed to high organic productivity coupled to episodic and rapid sedimentation rather than existence of bottom-water anoxia linked to upwelling. Because sea-ice rafting was probably the dominant sediment transport mechanism it is not appropriate to use sequence stratigraphic methodology to predict lithofacies variability in this environment.