Combined flow origin of edgewise intraclast conglomerates: Sellick Hill Formation (Lower Cambrian), South Australia



Unusually thick, coarse grained edgewise intraclast conglomerates occur at eight or more horizons within subtidal nodular and ribbon bedded wackestones and packstones of the Lower Cambrian Sellick Hill Formation, South Australia. The intraclast beds are flat based and laterally discontinuous, forming bar-like structures that must have exhibited bathymetric relief of as much as 1 m. The internal fabrics of these beds are variable. Thinner beds are dominated by flat-lying intraclasts; thicker beds contain both chaotic, randomly oriented, steeply inclined intraclasts and clusters of fan-shaped, vertically stacked edgewise intraclasts.

The Sellick Hill Formation intraclast conglomerates are inferred to have been formed by intense, storm-generated combined flows on a broad, subtidal carbonate ramp. Superimposition of wave-induced oscillatory motions on geostrophic bottom flows during large storms generates short-lived, but exceptionally high instantaneous shear stresses in the bottom boundary layer. Entrainment of the relatively large intraclasts occurs through sliding, rather than pivoting. Edgewise fabrics are a product of asymmetric acceleration and deceleration of intraclasts during passage of waves and the chaotic nature of collisions between intraclasts moving within the boundary layer. Collisions between intraclasts impart a rotating moment, causing intraclasts to tip up during maximum fluid shear stress. Lodgement or packing of clasts in vertical or steeply inclined positions occurs within scours, where intraclasts can wedge between other vertically inclined clasts, or where intraclasts are pinned in steep orientations by collisions with shallowly inclined intraclasts. Differential erosional resistance of the intraclast deposits probably led to the development of sharp lateral changes in thickness.

The Sellick Hill Formation intraclast conglomerates record erosion and reworking of subtidal, subfairweather wave base environments by exceptionally intense and presumably rare storm flows. The intraclast horizons represent a substantial loss in stratigraphic resolution due to widespread erosion of the ramp.