Cyclicity in the nearshore marine to coastal, Lower Permian, Pebbley Beach Formation, southern Sydney Basin, Australia: a record of relative sea-level fluctuations at the close of the Late Palaeozoic Gondwanan ice age



The Lower Permian (Artinskian to Sakmarian) Pebbley Beach Formation (PBF) of the southernmost Sydney Basin in New South Wales, Australia, records sediment accumulation in shallow marine to coastal environments at the close of the Late Palaeozoic Gondwanan ice age. This paper presents a sequence stratigraphic re-evaluation of the upper half of the unit based on the integration of sedimentology and ichnology. Ten facies are recognized, separated into two facies associations. Facies Association A (seven facies) comprises variably bioturbated siltstones and sandstones with marine body fossils, interpreted as recording sediment accumulation in open marine environments ranging from lower offshore to middle shoreface water depths. Evidence of deltaic influence is seen in several Association A facies. Facies Association B (three facies) comprises mainly heterolithic, interlaminated and thinly interbedded sandstone and siltstone with some thicker intervals of dark grey, organic-rich mudstone, some units clearly filling incised channel forms. These facies are interpreted as the deposits of estuarine channels and basins. Throughout the upper half of the formation, erosion surfaces with several metres relief abruptly separate open marine facies of Association A (below) from estuarine facies of Association B (above). Vertical facies changes imply significant basinward shift of environment across these surfaces, and lowering of relative sea level in the order of 50 m. These surfaces can be traced over several kilometres along depositional strike, and are defined as sequence boundaries. On this basis, at least nine sequences have been recognized in the upper half of the formation, each of which is < 10 m thick, condensed, incomplete and top-truncated. Sequences contain little if any record of the lowstand systems tract, a more substantial transgressive systems tract and a highstand systems tract that is erosionally truncated (or in some cases, missing). This distinctive stacking pattern (which suggests a dominance of retrogradation and progradation over aggradation) and the implied relative sea-level drop across sequence boundaries of tens of metres are remarkably similar to some other studies of continental margin successions formed under the Neogene icehouse climatic regime. Accordingly, it is suggested that the stratigraphic architecture of the PBF was a result of an Icehouse climate regime characterized by repeated, high-amplitude cycles of relative sea-level change.