Dolomitization of the Capitan Formation forereef facies (Permian, west Texas and New Mexico): seepage reflux revisited


  • Leslie A. Melim,

    1. Department of Geological Sciences, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 77275, USA (E-mail:
    Search for more papers by this author
    • 1

      Present address: Department of Geology, Western Illinois University, 1 University Circle, Macomb, IL 61456, USA.

  • Peter A. Scholle

    1. Department of Geological Sciences, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 77275, USA (E-mail:
    Search for more papers by this author
    • 2

      Present address: New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Tech., Socorro, NM 87801-4796, USA.


Abstract Interpretation of seepage reflux dolomitization is commonly restricted to intervals containing evaporites even though several workers have modelled reflux of mesosaline brines. This study looked at the partially dolomitized forereef facies of the Capitan Formation to test the extent of reflux dolomitization and evaluate the possible role of the near-backreef mesosaline carbonate lagoon as an alternative source of dolomitizing fluids. The Capitan Formation forereef facies ranges from 10% to 90% dolomite. Most of the dolomite is fabric preserving and formed during early burial after marine cementation, before and/or during evaporite cementation and before stylolitization. Within the forereef facies, dolomite follows depositional units, with debris-flow and grain-flow deposits the most dolomitized and turbidity-current deposits the least. The amount of dolomite increases with stratigraphic age and decreases downslope. Within the reef facies, dolomite is restricted to haloes around fractures and primary cavities except where the reef facies lacks marine cements and, in contrast, is completely dolomitized. This dolomite distribution supports dolomitization by sinking fluids. Oxygen isotopic values for fabric-preserving dolomite (δ18O = 0·9 ± 1·0‰, N = 101) support dolomitization by sea water to isotopically enriched sea water. These values are closer to the near-backreef dolomite (δ18O = 2·1 ± 0·7‰, N = 48) than the hypersaline backreef dolomite (δ18O = 3·6 ± 0·9‰, N = 11). Therefore, the fabric-preserving dolomite is consistent with dolomitization during seepage reflux of mainly mesosaline brines derived from the near-backreef carbonate lagoon. The occurrence of mesosaline brine reflux in the Capitan Formation has important implications for dolomitization in forereef facies and elsewhere. First, any area with a restricted carbonate lagoon may be dolomitized by refluxing brines even if there are no evaporite facies present. Secondly, such brines may travel significant distances vertically provided permeable pathways (such as fractures) are present. Therefore, the absence of immediately overlying evaporite or restricted facies is not sufficient cause to eliminate reflux dolomitization from consideration.