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Keywords:

  • Geochemistry;
  • Madrid Basin;
  • playa-lake;
  • silcretes;
  • Tertiary

Four regressive sequences are present in the opaline rocks and related deposits of the Miocene Intermediate Unit of the Madrid Basin. The sequences consist of silty mudstones and argillaceous opals, separated by transitional facies. The silty mudstone consists mainly of dioctahedral smectites, whereas the argillaceous opal is principally opal-CT and variable amounts of sepiolite. In the transitional facies, lamina of dioctahedral smectite co-exist with neoformed opal-CT and sepiolite. Petrological and geochemical features (major, trace and REE elements) indicate that the opaline levels and the transitional facies are related and are a consequence of silcrete formation in an argillaceous playa deposit. The isocon method was used to calculate changes in element concentration associated with silcrete formation. The geochemical data suggest silicification in an arid environment. The silcrete profile occurs four times, possibly as a result of highstand–lowstand fluctuations of the lake level caused by climatic changes. Structures and cements in the silcretes indicate that, although silicification may have commenced at the top of a groundwater table, it continued in the unsaturated zone above the water table.