Anatomy and origin of toplap in a mixed carbonate-clastic system, Seven Rivers Formation (Permian, Guadalupian), Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico, USA



The Seven Rivers Formation exposed in Slaughter Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico, reveals complex relations between long- and short-term relative changes in sea-level, shelf configuration and sedimentation, which interacted to create a distinct toplap geometry. At least five sandstones diverge basinward from a prominent boundary unit marking the surface of toplap at the top of the Seven Rivers Formation and create a series of prograding, shingled clinoforms. The boundary unit is a horizontal, well-sorted, quartz arenite underlain across the shelf by peritidal carbonate or by other merging sandstones. Preserved palaeotopography is indicated by facies changes downdip and the presence of horizontal geopetal indicators in inclined beds. Near the boundary unit (updip), merging sandstones contain rare sedimentary structures including evaporite moulds and irregular fenestrae and are bounded above and below by peritidal carbonate with microbial laminae, fenestral fabrics and mudcracks. Laterally (downdip), the sandstone-bounding peritidal carbonate facies pass into subtidal carbonate facies (ooid-peloid-fusulinid-dasyclad-mollusc pack- and grainstone) and interbedded sandstones contain sedimentary structures such as ripple marks and trough to planar cross-stratification, as well as ooids, fusulinids and other carbonate grains. Toplap is interpreted to have developed by sediment bypass across a subaerially exposed shelf while sedimentation continued in still-submerged areas downdip from the shelf crest, and hence represents depositional toplap. Physical tracing of subaerial exposure surfaces suggests that the shoreline migrated up and down palaeoslope several times. The vertical component of five short-term shoreline migrations decreased during formation of the toplap geometry. Sea-level rose to approximately the same position following each fall to create the toplap geometry. This depositional toplap is the stratigraphic result of high-‘frequency’ relative changes of sea-level that combined to produce the larger-scale geometry. We suggest that changing amplitudes of relative sea-level may play a significant role in the stratigraphic evolution of platforms and that separating ‘short-term’and ‘long-term’relative sea-level may be ambiguous in such instances.