This study examines the heterogeneity in properties of syndepositional faults and fractures found in the Upper Permian Capitan carbonate platform, Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico. Syndepositional faults and fractures grew incrementally, and were repeatedly exploited by early karst as the platform developed. Primary fault and fracture rocks were preferentially dissolved to form structure-controlled paleocaverns, which were subsequently filled with platform-derived sediments. These are divided here into three groups: (i) carbonate-dominated, (ii) siliciclastic-dominated, and (iii) mixed carbonate-siliciclastic lithologies. The affinity of the paleocavern-filling deposits to platform strata permits linking of the different fill types to different stages of sea-level cycle. Consequently, periods of dissolution and deposition within paleocaverns can be tied to the platform's sequence stratigraphy.
Paleocavern-filling sediments have a distinct vertical stratigraphy, and are observed to vary with distance from the platform margin over a distance of 2.6 km. Their distribution is thus to some extent predictable. Vertical and lateral variability in paleocavern fill is chiefly related to siliciclastic-filled karstic chimneys that narrow downwards and tend to become more frequent and laterally extensive upwards. This is because upper structural levels of fault and fracture zones were more frequently opened by early karst, and also because siliciclastics are not prone to dissolution, whereas carbonates are. Across platform, karst-modified faults and fractures located close to the platform margin are dominated by carbonate lithologies. The proportion and vertical penetration of siliciclastics increases with distance from platform margin. These patterns appear to reflect variations in the frequency and duration of subaerial exposure events across the basinward-inclined Capitan platform.
The results of this study have implications for understanding properties of early faults and fractures in carbonate strata. Faults and fractures presented here are heterogeneous, and the heterogeneity is related principally to distribution of sedimentary rocks within paleocaverns developed along them. As a consequence, their properties are not related to dimensions or throw, as is the case for faults and fractures within siliciclastic rocks. Data and interpretations presented here have implications for Capitan hydrocarbon reservoirs, and can be applied to characterization of faults and fractures in other carbonate platforms subjected to early deformation.