Replacement of evaporites within the Permian Park City Formation, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA



The Permian Park City Formation consists of cyclically bedded subtidal to supratidal carbonates, cherts and siltstones. Early diagenesis of Park City Formation carbonates occurred under the influence of waters ranging from evaporative brines to dilute meteoric solutions and resulted in evaporite emplacement (syndepositional nodules and cements), as well as dolomitization, silicification and leaching of carbonate grains.

Major differences are seen, however, in the diagenetic patterns of subsurface and surface sections of Park City Formation rocks. Subsurface samples are characterized by extensively preserved evaporite crystals and nodules, and preserve evidence of significant silicification (chert, chalcedony and megaquartz) and minor calcitization of evaporites. In outcrop sections, the evaporites are more poorly preserved, and have been replaced by silica and calcite and also leached. The resultant mouldic porosity is filled with widespread, very coarse, blocky calcite spar.

These replacements appear to be multistage phenomena. Field and petrographic evidence indicates that silicification involved direct replacement of evaporites and occurred during the early stages of burial prior to hydrocarbon migration. Siliceous sponge spicules provided a major source of silica, and the fluids involved in replacement were probably a mixture of marine and meteoric waters. A second period of replacement and minor calcitization is inferred to have occurred during deep burial (under the influence of thermochemical sulphate reduction), although the presence of hydrocarbons probably retarded most other diagenetic reactions during this time interval. The major period of evaporite diagenesis, however, occurred during late stage uplift. The late stage replacement and pore-filling calcites have δ13C values ranging from 0·5 to -25·3%, and δ18O values of -16·1 to -24·30 (PDB), reflecting extensive modification by meteoric water. Vigorous groundwater flow, associated with mid-Tertiary block faulting, led to migration of meteoric fluids through the porous carbonates to depths of several kilometres. These waters reacted with the in situ hydrocarbon-rich pore fluids and evaporite minerals, and precipitated calcite cements.

The Tosi Chert appears to have been an even more open system to fluid migration during its burial and has undergone a much more complex diagenetic history, as evidenced by multiple episodes of silicification, calcitization (ferroan and non-ferroan), and hydrocarbon emplacement.

The multistage replacement processes described here do not appear to be restricted to the Permian of Wyoming. Similarly complex patterns of alteration have been noted in the Permian of west Texas, New Mexico, Greenland and other areas, as well as in strata of other ages. Thus, multistage evaporite dissolution and replacement may well be the norm rather than the exception in the geological record.