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ABSTRACT

In the North Apennines of Italy, Upper Jurassic bedded chert stratigraphically overlies ophiolitic rocks and is overlain by Lower to Middle Cretaceous pelagic limestone and shale, and Upper Cretaceous flysch. The bedded chert, best exposed in East Liguria and on Elba, is typically 30–80 m thick, but occasionally reaches 150–200 m thickness. It consists of two main alternating lithologïes: siliceous mudstone (SM) and radiolarite (R).

Chert sections commonly show characteristic stratigraphic changes. Lower cherts display a striking rhythmic alternation of R and ferruginous SM beds. In middle cherts, SM beds are much less ferruginous and shalier intercalations are locally present. In upper cherts, R beds are less frequent and SM beds are essentially non-ferruginous.

R beds are generally 1–4 cm thick, and consist of 80–90% quartz, 5–15% clays and usually < 1% hematite. They are commonly parallel-laminated, and rarely size-graded. In size-graded beds, large radiolaria are more abundant near the bed base (commonly together with ophiolitic or SM clasts) and small radiolaria more abundant near the bed top. Sorting is poor throughout most R beds. R beds are interpreted as turbidites (cf. Nisbet & Price, 1974). Model calculations suggest that typical settling velocities of radiolaria during redeposition are < 1 cm sec−1, which is low and of restricted range relative to the 1–10 cm sec−1 settling velocities of clastic grains of comparable size range. Radiolaria therefore should have only a limited tendency to grade and sort during deposition from a turbulent current.

SM beds are commonly 1–7 cm thick, although much thicker ones occur near the base of sections, and consist mainly of 50–70% quartz, 15–35% clays and 0–15% hematite. Microscopic clay-silica aggregates and highly corroded remnants of radiolaria are common. SM beds are interpreted as mainly ambient pelagic sediment which accumulated slowly in topographic lows, and which was modified by near-surface dissolution of biogenic silica. In SM beds which contain two texturally different layers, the lower one is interpreted as the top of the underlying radiolarian turbidite.

North Apennine cherts represent the first sediment deposited on oceanic crust formed during the opening of the North Apennine part of the Tethys. The ophiolitic basement had a rugged topography which favoured the redeposition of siliceous sediment. Hematite and local Mn enrichments in SM beds in the lower chert sections represent hydrothermal precipitates inferred to have originated at a spreading axis. During seafloor spreading, accumulation of siliceous sediments progressively reduced the topography. Deposition of ophiolitic detritus within the sediments phased out during early chert sedimentation, and the hydrothermal contribution during early-middle chert sedimentation. As local basins filled, during late chert sedimentation, radiolarian turbidites became less frequent.

The first limestones at the top of chert sections are calcareous ooze turbidites derived from above the CCD and deposited slightly below it. Gradual descent of the CCD to ocean floor depths at the end of the Jurassic (Bosellini & Winterer, 1975) led to the replacement of siliceous by carbonate sedimentation.