In many sandstones quartz cements significantly reduce porosity. The origin of these cements is often unclear. This paper investigates a possible mechanism for the generation of silica for quartz cement by pressure dissolution in interbedded mudstones.
Theoretical models of quartz pressure dissolution, including the effects of silica precipitation kinetics, show that the concentration of dissolved silica in the pore fluids of a compacting sediment increases with decreasing grain size and silica precipitation constant. Quartz precipitation is strongly inhibited by the presence of small amounts of clay within a sediment, suggesting that siltstones and quartz-rich mudstones which are undergoing pressure dissolution may act as a source of dissolved silica for export to nearby, coarser sediments.
A computational model for the diagenetic modification of a sandstone-mudstone interface due to pressure dissolution is described. Both sandstone and mudstone layers are assumed to be actively compacting by pressure dissolution, and mass transport by molecular diffusion is considered. As quartz precipitation in the mudstone layer is relatively slow compared to that in the sandstone, significant amounts of dissolved silica become available in the mudstone, and may be exported into the adjacent sandstone. In the absence of pore-fluid advection, this may result in the formation of extensive secondary quartz within the sandstone, close to the interface.
The volume of silica exported from the mudstone is limited by the length scale over which diffusion through the mudstone is effective. This is typically 3–5 m. The volume of silica available therefore suggests that extensive porosity modification within the adjacent sandstone can only occur close to the mudstone. Thus it is possible that thin sandstones could become cemented by slow diffusive transfer of silica, but that in thicker sandstones the silica may become dispersed by pore-fluid advection.