Abstract

In the Big Snowy Mountains of central Montana, USA, late Visean to Bashkirian strata preserve a nearly complete, but poorly documented, paleotropical stratigraphic succession that straddles the range of current estimates of the onset of the Late Paleozoic Ice Age (LPIA). Sedimentologic and stratigraphic investigation of the Otter (late Visean to Serpukhovian) and Heath (Serpukhovian) formations, with secondary focus on the overlying Tyler (late Serpukhovian to Bashkirian) and Alaska Bench (Bashkirian) formations, facilitated an appraisal of paleotropical environmental change preserved in this succession. Three facies associations reminiscent of environments currently forming in Shark Bay, Australia, were identified in the Otter Formation: shallow semi-restricted littoral platform, intertidal platform, and supratidal plain. Five facies associations broadly comparable to modern environments present in the Sunda Shelf and southern coast of the Persian Gulf were identified in the Heath Formation: offshore outer ramp, mid- to outer ramp, inner ramp, coastal plain, and sabkha. Facies associations preserved in the Heath Formation are here explained in the context of a protected, homoclinal carbonate ramp situated in a partially silled epicontinental embayment. A shift from low-magnitude relative sea-level oscillations preserved in the Otter Formation to a cyclothemic stratigraphic pattern entailing ≥ 6 fourth-order, high-frequency and high-magnitude relative sea-level fluctuations in the Heath Formation is here interpreted to record the main eustatic signal of the LPIA in central Montana. Current published biostratigraphic constraints for the observed stratigraphy estimate the main eustatic signal of the LPIA to have occurred approximately between 331 (base Serpukhovian) and 327 Ma in central Montana. A distinct upward transition from coal and paleosol-bearing depositional sequences in the lower Heath to evaporite and limestone-bearing depositional sequences in the upper Heath preserves a broad humid to arid paleoclimate shift during deposition of this unit, which influenced hydrographic circulation patterns and the resultant distribution of anoxic environments in the Big Snowy Trough during this time interval. Improved depositional and sequence stratigraphic models of the Heath Formation proposed in this study permit new insight into the theoretical distribution of, and water depth necessary to preserve, black, organic-rich claystone and shale in partially silled intracratonic basins, in addition to new temporal constraints on LPIA onset in paleotropical western Laurentia.

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