Sequence stratigraphy of a carbonate-evaporite succession (Zechstein 1, Hessian Basin, Germany)



The evaporitic Hessian Zechstein Basin is a sub-basin of the Southern Zechstein Basin, situated at its southern margin. Twelve facies groups were identified in the Zechstein Limestone and Lower Werra Anhydrite in order to better understand the sequence-stratigraphic evolution of this sub-basin, which contains economically important potassium salts. Four different paleogeographic depositional areas were recognized based on the regional distribution of facies. Siliciclastic-carbonate, carbonate, carbonate-evaporite and evaporite shallowing-upward successions are developed. These allow the establishment of parasequences and sequences, as well as correlation throughout the Hessian Basin and into the Southern Zechstein Basin. Two depositional sequences are distinguished, Zechstein sequence 1 and Zechstein sequence 2. The former comprises the succession from the Variscan basement up to the lowermost part of the Werra Anhydrite, including the Kupferschiefer as part of the transgressive systems tract. The highstand systems tract is defined by the Zechstein Limestone, in which two parasequences are developed. In large parts of the Hessian Basin, Zechstein sequence 1 is capped by a karstic, subaerial exposure surface, interpreted as recording a type-1 sequence boundary that formed during a distinct brine level fall. Low-lying central areas (Central Hessian Sub-basin, Werra Sub-basin), however, were not exposed and show a correlative conformity. Topography was minimal at the end of sequence 1. Widely developed perilittoral, sabkha and salina shallowing-upward successions indicate a renewed rise of brine level (interpreted as a transgressive systems tract), because of inflow of preconcentrated brines from the Southern Zechstein Basin to the north. This marks the initiation of Zechstein sequence 2, which comprises most of the Lower Werra Anhydrite. In the Central Hessian Sub-basin, situated proximal to the brine inflow and on the ridges within the Hessian Basin, physico-chemical conditions were well suited for sulphate precipitation to form a thick cyclic succession. It consists of four parasequences that completely filled the increased accommodation space. In contrast, only minor sulphate accumulation occurred in the Werra Sub-basin, situated further southwards and distal to the inflow. As a result of substantially different sulphate precipitation rates during increased accommodation, water depth in the region became more variable. The Werra Sub-basin, characterized by very low sedimentation rates, became increasingly deeper through time, trapping dense halite brines and precipitating rock salt deposits (Werra Halite). This ‘self-organization’ model for an evaporitic basin, in which depositional relief evolves with sedimentation and relief is filled by evaporite thereafter, contradicts earlier interpretations, that call upon the existence of a tectonic depression in the Werra area, which controlled sedimentation from the beginning of the Zechstein.