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ABSTRACT

The Late Ordovician-Early Silurian Mallowa Salt of the Carribuddy Group, Canning Basin, north-west Australia, is the largest halite deposit known in Australia, attaining thicknesses of 800 m or more within an area of approximately 200 000 km2. Study of 675 m of drill core from BHP-Utah Minerals’ Brooke No. 1 well in the Willara Sub-basin indicates that the Mallowa Salt accumulated within a saltern (dominantly subaqueous evaporite water body) that was subject to recurrent freshening, desiccation and exposure. Textures and bromine signatures imply a shallow water to ephemeral hypersaline environment typified by increasing salinity and shallowing into evaporitic mudflat conditions toward the top of halite-mudstone cycles (Type 2) and the less common dolomite/anhydrite-halite-mudstone cycles (Type 1). The borate mineral priceite occurs in the capping mudstones of some cycles, reinforcing the idea of an increasing continental influence toward the top of mudstone-capped halite cycles.

The rock salt in both Type 1 and Type 2 cycles typically comprises a mosaic of large, randomly orientated, interlocking halite crystals that formed during early diagenesis. It only partially preserves a primary sedimentary fabric of vertically elongate crystals, some with remnant aligned chevrons. Intraformational hiati, halite karst tubes and solution pits attest to episodic dissolution. Stacked Type 2 cycles dominate; occasional major recharges of less saline, perhaps marine, waters in the same area produced Type I cycles.

The envisaged saltern conditions were comparable in many ways to those prevailing during the deposition of halite cycles of the Permian Salado Formation in New Mexico and the Permian San Andres Formation of the Palo Duro Basin area in Texas. However, in the Canning Basin the cycles are characterized by a much lower proportion of anhydrite, implying perhaps a greater degree of continental restriction to the basin. The moderately high level of bromine in the Mallowa Salt (156·5 ± 43·5 ppm Br for primary halite, 146·1 ± 54·7 ppm Br for secondary halite) accords with evolved continental brines, although highly evaporative minerals such as polyhalite and magnesite are absent. The bromine levels suggest little or no dissolution/reprecipitation of primary halite and yet, paradoxically, there is little preservation of the primary depositional fabric. The preservation of early halite cements and replacement textures supports the idea of an early shutdown of brine flow paths, probably at burial depths of no more than a few metres, and the resultant preservation of primary bromine values in the secondary halite.