Upper Devonian rocks in western Canada were deposited as carbonate-platform and surrounding slope and basinal rocks during a second-order sea-level cycle, characterized by long-term climatic warming, that ended with cooling associated with the Frasnian–Famennian mass-extinction event. In this contribution, we assess the hypothesis that high-resolution magnetic susceptibility (MS) data records cross-basin variations that are intimately tied to sea level and associated climatic change, the depositional environment, and the paleogeographic location of siliciclastic sediment sources. Four main trends are apparent in the MS data: (1) the magnitude of the MS signature increases from west to east across western Canada; (2) platform facies generally have low MS signatures compared with off-platform facies; (3) the overall MS signature increases and then decreases throughout the stratigraphic profile, largely in response to changes in depositional setting (i.e., item 2); (4) MS is generally high during third- and fourth-order sea-level lowstand and early transgression and lower during late transgression and highstand.
During the late Middle (Givetian) to early Late (Frasnian) Devonian, siliciclastic sediments (silt and fine sand size) sourced from the west Alberta arch and Peace River arch, contributed to relatively high MS signatures in facies deposited proximal to these source areas. Other important detrital sediment sources were the Ellesmerian orogenic belt in northern Canada and the Laurussian continental landmass to the east. These latter sources supplied fine-grained sediments that were dispersed basinwide and resulted in a nearly order-of-magnitude increase in MS values to the east. This trend and fine grain size implies that some detrital sediment was delivered from the east as eolian dust from the “Old Red Continent.”
By the early Frasnian, the west Alberta arch was submerged, and by middle to late Frasnian time the Peace River arch was largely covered. During the late middle Frasnian a pronounced rise in MS signatures can be tied directly to deposition of the clay- and locally silt-rich Mount Hawk Formation. During the late middle to late Frasnian, carbonate-ramp facies prograded from east to west, resulting in seaward migration of the shoreline and increased siliciclastic input to the ramp slope that influenced the pronounced increase in MS signatures to the east. By the late Frasnian, cross-basin MS profiles record uniformly low susceptibilities indicating that high MS siliciclastic detritus was either bypassed seaward, was swamped by carbonate input, or was dominated by diamagnetic quartz.
Individual MS events can be accurately correlated across much of the basin at a resolution that is higher than single conodont zones despite the local influences on variability of the signature. Variations in the MS signature can thus be explained partly by depositional environment (platforms with low MS, basins with higher MS) and partly by third- and fourth-order sea-level and associated climatic changes. Fourth-order changes in sea level are routinely interpreted to result from variations in paleoclimate in the Milankovitch band and recent work indicates that third-order sea-level changes may be linked to longer-term modulation of Milankovitch-band orbital variations. The increase in MS during prolonged Frasnian warming thus appears to be directly linked to paleoclimatic change, and comparison of the MS signature with more direct measures, like oxygen isotopes, would serve as a test of its utility as a paleoclimate proxy.