Stylolites are irregular discontinuity surfaces that are thought to result from localized stress-induced dissolution during burial or tectonic compression. The genesis of stylolites and the controls on stylolitization are still debated, and the interplay between stylolitization, generation of carbonate-rich fluids, diagenetic fluid flow within fractures and matrix, cementation, and porosity modifications is complex. All of these processes have important diagenetic effects potentially altering the intrinsic properties of the host rock, with implications for hydrocarbon exploration and water resources in aquifers. We investigate the process of stylolitization by a macroscopic, petrographic, and geochemical study of pressure-solution features in Eocene to early Oligocene limestones in cores from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Hole 317-U1352C (Canterbury Basin). The results indicate correlations among stylolite amplitude, stylolite density, and siliciclastic content of the host rock. These relationships are interpreted to suggest that siliciclastic content in carbonate rocks increases heterogeneity, which in turn impacts stylolite nucleation. Moreover, the geochemical data support that clay along the stylolite is not authigenic, but a relict from impurities in the limestone host rock. The statistical approach of stylolite spacing used in this study, which is different than previous studies, reinforces the model of random occurrence of stylolites in (carbonate) lithologic units.
This study shows that local stresses in tectonically passive areas may allow the formation of rare oblique stylolites with peaks perpendicular to the stylolite plane. Estimation of the amount of limestone dissolved during stylolitization (minimum 7% to 12% of the depositional limestone) and the volume of sparite in the host rock (up to 1.6% of the compacted limestone) suggests that the pressure-solution fluids cemented the micropores, reducing porosity to about 10% (from a common porosity of about 40% in mechanically compacted chalk). This study thus highlights the importance of microporosity as a sink for burial cements, an observation difficult to make in thin-section. Analysis of stylolite infills at Site U1352 shows no evidence that the stylolites acted as conduits for diagenetic fluids, unless if the fluid was host-rock buffered and thus its chemistry indistinguishable from that of the host rock.
The link between siliciclastic content in carbonate rocks and the spacing and amplitude of stylolites improves understanding of burial compaction processes. Predicting the morphology and spacing of stylolites in the subsurface can be used to identify baffles to cross-stylolite fluid flow or cementation (of microporosity) influencing heterogeneity of petrophysical properties in (subsurface reservoir) host rocks.