Anatomy and origin of a Cretaceous phosphorite-greensand giant, Egypt



Late Cretaceous epicontinental phosphorites, porcelanites/cherts, dark-coloured shales, glauconitic sandstones and bioclastic and fine-grained carbonate rocks in Egypt are examined in terms of their overall depositional and diagenetic framework and stable isotopic and organic geochemical characteristics. Two main depositional realms are interpreted and correlated through sequence stratigraphic analysis: (1) a shallow hemipelagic environment accompanying initial stages of marine transgression and conducive to the formation of organic carbon-rich shales, biosiliceous sediments and thick phosphorites, and (2) a relatively high energy depositional regime accompanying sea-level fall during which deltas advanced, glauconites were reworked seaward and prograding oyster banks became periodically exposed to episodes of fresh water diagenesis, thereby promoting solution-collapse phenomena in associated cherts. Lenticular to massive phosphorites are viewed as the result of current winnowing and concentration of authigenic grains initially precipitated in associated reducing shales and biosiliceous sediments. In eastern Egypt the phosphorites form winnowed lag layers, some of which may have been redeposited down slope in structural lows. In the west, these sands were concentrated into giant phosphorite sand waves built by reworking of penecontemporaneously deposited phosphatic muds during marine transgression. Carbon isotopic results substantiate interpretations from modern deposits for limitation of phosphate mineral precipitation with depth in sediments as a result of lattice poisoning. However, direct desorption of phosphorus to pore waters from detrital iron-oxyhydroxide phases also may have been important in the Cretaceous setting, the iron reduced in this process being available for incorporation in glauconites. The main locus for authigenic glauconite precipitation appears to be where iron fluxes from regions of lateritic weathering were highest and near the boundary between oxygenated and reduced waters.

This study suggests a model for the common coexistence of glauconites and phosphorites in the geological record. Although upwelling is often advocated as the origin of nearly all giant phosphorite deposits, we suggest that some of these may have been strongly influenced by fluvially derived phosphorus borne on particulates and desorbed from these compounds upon flocculation and/or reduction in bottom waters or pore waters.