In models of siliciclastic sequence stratigraphy, the sequence boundary in distal marine environments, where the strata are mudstone dominated, is usually considered a correlative conformity—the seaward extension of a subaerial unconformity. Despite its wide usage in the literature, objective recognition criteria of a correlative conformity remain lacking, largely due to the limited number of case studies directly examining the characteristics of sequence boundaries in offshore mudstone-dominated environments. This study focuses on the mudstone-dominated transitional interval between the Tununk Shale Member and the Ferron Sandstone Member of the Mancos Shale Formation exposed in south-central Utah to extend our understanding of the characteristics of a sequence boundary developed in the distal shelf environment of a ramp setting. An integrated sedimentologic, petrographic, and sequence stratigraphic analysis was conducted to characterize the sequence boundary that separates the Tununk from the Ferron depositional system (hereafter referred to as the T-F sequence boundary) and its lateral along-depositional-strike variability.

Although manifest as a mudstone-on-mudstone contact, the T-F sequence boundary in all three measured sections is a subtle unconformity, characterized by erosional truncation below and onlap above, and marks a distinct basinward shift in facies association. The T-F sequence boundary also marks the change from the Tununk offshore mud-belt system to the Ferron Notom delta system, and therefore represents a surface that divides two genetically different depositional systems. Based on two distinct marker beds that bracket the T-F sequence boundary, the T-F sequence boundary can be traced across the study area with confidence. The lateral variability in the characteristics of the T-F sequence boundary along depositional strike indicates that it was produced by an allogenic base-level fall.

Offshore shelfal mudstone strata may contain a significantly higher incidence of subtle unconformities analogous to the T-F sequence boundary than currently appreciated. Careful sedimentologic and petrographic analyses, combined with lateral correlations constrained by reliable chronostratigraphic marker beds, are essential for identifying subtle unconformities in shelf mudstone successions. The accurate recognition of subtle unconformities in mudstone strata is critical to apply the sequence stratigraphic approach appropriately to distal shelf environments, as well as to better constrain the timing and cause (allogenic vs. autogenic) of relative changes of sea level recorded in these rocks.

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