Condensed intervals provide a framework to study evolution of iron-coated particles. This study examines the iron-rich particles contained in the condensed carbonate deposits spanning from uppermost Toarcian to lower Bajocian in the northwestern Iberian Range (northern Spain), to unravel the controls on geochemical changes in the basin by determining variation in mineralogy and REY (rare earth elements and yttrium) as potential predictors of provenance. The particles are composed mostly of the ferrous phyllosilicate berthierine, and by Fe-oxyhydroxide goethite. Depositionally, iron-rich particles occur at specific horizons, and display changes in character, from iron cortoids (Stage 1) in lowest Aalenian sediments, passing to small-sized iron ooids (Stage 2) in early Aalenian strata and to more complex iron-grain aggregates and larger iron ooid–oncoid mixed particles (Stage 3) in the middle–upper Aalenian succession. In the lower Bajocian sediments that represent the most condensed interval, diagenetic processes strongly affected previously iron-coated particles.
The genesis of the diverse suite of iron-rich particles is explained by petrographic and mineralogic studies revealing oscillation in redox conditions. Berthierine genesis is linked with suboxic conditions below the water–sediment interface. Subsequent periods of low rates of sediment accumulation allowed the exhumation of particles, and exposing them to oxic conditions that favored goethite formation. Definitive burial led to the development of isopachous circumgranular berthierinic cement rims and dissolution and replacement.
Studies of REY and comparison with iron-rich samples of diverse provenance suggest a conceptual model for geochemical evolution of these deposits. The lack of both contemporaneous soil deposits and evidence of subaerial exposure in this arid paleoclimatic setting rule out weathering processes as the main source of iron. Instead, geochemical indexes (Y/Nb and Y/La ratios) suggest that coeval Iberian volcanism was the most plausible iron source.
The sedimentological, mineralogical, and chemical attributes of these iron deposits provides proxies to interpret redox and geochemical fluctuations and integrate all the data in an evolutionary model. Variations in REY patterns offer a framework for correlation at both local and subregional scales. Likewise, as this study provides new geochemical data for the Aalenian period, including the Fuentelsaz GSSP worldwide reference section, it enhances knowledge of the evolution of the westernmost Tethyan basins and the significance of widely distributed oolitic ironstones. The data collectively reveal how the REY signature of condensed sediments can be used to obtain detailed information on the geochemical and paleoceanographic conditions of depositional basins.