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Keywords:

  • Cambrian;
  • cyclicity;
  • deep water;
  • mud mounds;
  • sea level

Abstract In mid-Middle Cambrian time, shallow-water sedimentation along the Cordilleran passive margin was abruptly interrupted by the development of the deep-water House Range embayment across Nevada and Utah. The Marjum Formation (330 m) in the central House Range represents deposition in the deepest part of the embayment and is composed of five deep-water facies: limestone–argillaceous limestone rhythmites; shale; thin carbonate mud mounds; bioturbated limestone; and cross-bedded limestone. These facies are cyclically arranged into 1·5 to 30 m thick parasequences that include rhythmite–mound, rhythmite–shale, rhythmite–bioturbated limestone and rhythmite–cross-bedded limestone parasequences. Using biostratigraphically constrained sediment accumulation rates, the parasequences range in duration from ≈14 to 270 kyr. The mud mounds are thin (<2 m), closely spaced, laterally linked, symmetrical domes composed of massive, fenestral, peloidal to clotted microspar with sparse unoriented, poorly sorted skeletal material, calcitized bacterial(?) filaments/tubes and abundant fenestrae and stroma- tactoid structures. These petrographic and sedimentological features suggest that the microspar, peloids/clots and syndepositional micritic cement were precipitated in situ from the activity of benthic microbial communities. Concentrated growth of the microbial communities occurred during periods of decreased input of fine detrital carbonate transported offshore from the adjacent shallow-water carbonate platform. In the neighbouring Wah Wah Range and throughout the southern Great Basin, coeval mid-Middle Cambrian shallow-water carbonates are composed of abundant metre-scale, upward-shallowing parasequences that record high-frequency (104−105 years) eustatic sea-level changes. Given this regional stratigraphic relationship, the Marjum Formation parasequences probably formed in response to high-frequency sea-level fluctuations that controlled the amount of detrital carbonate input into the deeper water embayment. During high-frequency sea-level rise and early highstand, detrital carbonate input into the embayment decreased as a result of carbonate factory retrogradation, resulting in the deposition of shale (base of rhythmite–shale parasequences) or thin nodular rhythmites, followed by in situ precipitated mud mounds (lower portion of rhythmite–mound parasequences). During the ensuing high-frequency sea-level fall/lowstand, detrital carbonate influx into the embayment increased on account of carbonate factory pro- gradation towards the embayment, resulting in deposition of rhythmites (upper part of rhythmite–mound parasequences), reworking of rhythmites by a lowered storm wave base (cross-bedded limestone deposition) or bioturbation of rhythmites by a weakened/lowered O2-minimum zone (bioturbated lime- stone deposition). This interpreted sea-level control on offshore carbonate sedimentation patterns is unique to Palaeozoic and earliest Mesozoic deep-water sediments. After the evolution of calcareous plankton in the Jurassic, the presence or absence of deeper water carbonates was influenced by a variety of chemical and physical oceanographic factors, rather than just physical transport of carbonate muds.