Cross-platform architecture of a sequence boundary in mixed siliciclastic-carbonate lithofacies, Middle Cambrian, southern Great Basin, USA



Stratigraphic analysis of mixed siliciclastic-carbonate lithofacies within the Middle Cambrian Bonanza King Formation of the southern Great Basin reveals three distinct facies associations that record a range of depositional environments from semi-arid tidal flats to deeper subtidal, restricted lagoons. Stratigraphic trends, cross-platform facies variations and correlation of individual surfaces across 250 km of the study area suggest that these mixed lithofacies were deposited in three temporally distinct phases. (1) Extensive progradation of mixed peritidal environments culminated in a prolonged episode of subaerial exposure marked by an areally extensive intraclast breccia (0·5–1·2 m thick) that we interpret to be a major Type 1 sequence-bounding disconformity. (2) Abrupt flooding of the exposed platform resulted in the deposition of mixed deeper subtidal lithofacies, including a condensed interval of fissile, fossiliferous shale. (3) Progressive shallowing and aggradational accumulation was accompanied by a decrease in siliciclastics and a shift to pure carbonate deposition. Deep-water siliciclastics and megabreccias record deposition along the base-of-slope off the Middle Cambrian shelf-edge, and are interpreted to represent lowstand deposits emplaced during the prolonged episode of subaerial exposure of the shallow shelf.

The presence of fine siliciclastics in both peritidal facies and sharply overlying deeper subtidal facies of the study interval within the Bonanza King suggests a variable, but relatively continuous, influx of terrigenous material throughout an extended period of accommodation change, apparently asynchronous with respect to the predictive model of reciprocal sedimentation. We suggest that the primary siliciclastic source changed with relative sea-level position. During lowered sea level, aeolian processes acting upon the unvegetated Cambrian craton transported fine siliciclastics onto peritidal and shallow-subtidal environments. During higher sea level, coastal siliciclastic reservoirs supplied sediment that was transported for long distances by geostrophic currents flowing along the submerged platform.

As opposed to many Cambro-Ordovician grand cycles that are commonly interpreted to consist of a transgressive shaly half-cycle grading upward into a regressive carbonate half-cycle, the sequence boundary within this Middle Cambrian succession occurs within siliciclastic-rich, mixed lithofacies rather than in adjoining purer carbonates, implying that some ‘grand cycles’ should not be considered synonymous with ‘sequences’. Interbasinal correlations of the Type 1 sequence boundary within the mixed unit are speculative, primarily because of the inherent imprecision of available trilobite biostratigraphy. However, there is evidence that an extended episode of subaerial exposure may have been continent-wide during the Ehmaniella trilobite biochron.