Saline lake carbonates within an Upper Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous continental red bed sequence in the Atacama region of northern Chile



The Codocedo Limestone Member is a thin but laterally persistent lacustrine sequence within the red beds of the Upper Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous Quebrada Monardes Formation, in the Atacama region of northern Chile. The thick succession of clastic terrigenous sediments of the Quebrada Monardes Formation was deposited in an arid to semi-arid environment. Sedimentary facies are indicative of deposition of aeolian dunes, alluvial fans and braided streams, playa-lake mudflats, and saline lakes and coastal lagoons. The strata accumulated in a N-S elongated extensional back-arc basin on the landward side of an active volcanic arc.

The 3 m thick Codocedo Limestone Member marks striking facies changes within the Quebrada Monardes Formation. It is underlain by a thick sequence of conglomerates and sandstones, deposited on alluvial fans. The limestone itself is characterized by evaporite minerals and laterally continuous laminations, indicative of deposition by vertical accretion in a perennial saline lake. The overlying siltstones and fine sandstones contain geodes and gypsum pseudomorphs and were deposited on playa-lake mudflats. The limestone therefore represents a relatively short period of lacustrine deposition within an essentially terrigenous succession. The lake was possibly formed quite suddenly, for example by damming of the basin by a lava flow.

Sedimentation in the perennial lake was predominantly cyclical. Seasonal planktonic algal blooms produced millimetre-scale laminations. Interbedded with these laminites are centimetre-scale beds of evaporitic gypsum, anhydrite and minor halite. The evaporite minerals have been largely replaced by calcite, chalcedony and quartz. The centimetre-scale cycles may have resulted from periodic freshwater input into the lake. After a period of about 3000 yr the lake dried up, to be replaced by extensive playa-lake mudflats.

The Codocedo Limestone Member possibly formed a plane of detachment during an early Tertiary phase of E-W directed regional compression. The limestones and evaporites were folded and extensively brecciated. This deformation probably resulted from simple shear along the bedding plane of the relatively weak evaporite minerals prior to their replacement by calcite and quartz.