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Diagenetic origin of Basal Anhydrite in the Cretaceous Maha Sarakham salt: Khorat Plateau, NE Thailand



Development of a diagenetic anhydrite bed at the base of the Cretaceous Maha Sarakham Saline Formation (the `Basal Anhydrite' member) of the Khorat Plateau in north-eastern Thailand took place due to leaching and/or pressure dissolution of salt at the contact between an underlying active sandstone aquifer system and an overlying massive halite-dominated evaporite sequence. Basal evaporites composed of halite with intercalated anhydrite of the latter sequence are undergoing dissolution as a result of subsurface flushing, with anhydrite produced as the insoluble residue. The result is a 1·1 m thick interval of nodular anhydrite displaying unique, basin-wide continuity. Observed textures, petrographic features and chemical data from the anhydrite and associated authigenic minerals support the origin of the Basal Anhydrite Member as an accumulation residue from the dissolution of the Maha Sarakham salts. Petrographically, the anhydrite in this unit is made up of crystals that are blocky and recrystallized, sheared, generally elongated and broken, and is bounded at the bottom by organic-rich stylolite surfaces. Authigenic and euhedral dolomite and calcite crystals are associated with the anhydrite. Traces of pyrite, galena and chalcopyrite are present along the stylolite surfaces suggesting supply of fresh water from the underlying sandstone at highly reducing conditions of burial. The δ34S of sulphate in the Basal Anhydrite averages 15 ‰ (CDT) and falls within the isotopic composition of the anhydrite in the Cretaceous Maha Sarakham Formation proper and the Cretaceous values of marine evaporites. Measured δ18O in dolomite range from −4·37 to −14·26‰ (PDB) suggesting a re-equilibration of dolomite with basinal water depleted in 18O and possible recrystallization of dolomite under relatively elevated temperatures. The δ13C, however, varies from +1·57 to −2·53‰ (PDB) suggesting a contribution of carbon from oxidation of organic matter. This basal anhydrite bed, similar to basinwide beds found at the bottom of many giant evaporite sequences, has always been considered to be depositional. Here, at the base of the Maha Sarakham Formation, we demonstrate that the anhydrite is diagenetic in origin and was formed by accumulation of original anhydrite by dissolution of interbedded halite from waters circulating though the underlying aquifer: it represents an `upside-down' caprock.