Stratigraphy and sedimentology of phosphate-rich sediments in Malta and south-eastern Sicily (latest Oligocene to early Late Miocene)



The Maltese archipelago and south-eastern Sicily include an Uppermost Oligocene to Upper Miocene hemipelagic sedimentary succession representing the Malta-Hyblean plateau, which limits the eastern Mediterranean to the west. This succession hosts a unique and well-exposed series of condensed and allochthonous phosphate-rich beds, which were formed in a sedimentary regime of erosion, sediment reworking and frequent gravity-flow deposition. The combination of nannofossil biostratigraphy and 87Sr/86Sr isotope stratigraphy allows for the precise attribution of ages to the phosphate deposits and for the distinction of three periods of major phosphogenesis. The first phase occurred between 24·5 and 21 Ma and 25 and 18·9 Ma (clustering of ages between 25 and 22·5 Ma) on Malta and Sicily, respectively. The second and third phases of phosphogenesis are documented from the Maltese Islands and are dated as 17·2 to 13·1 Ma and 10·9 to 9·8 Ma, respectively. The phosphate-rich beds are associated with hiatuses and phases of important condensation which, for the oldest phosphogenic period, envelop the time period of 23·2 to 22 Ma for the Fomm Ir Rhi Bay section (Malta) and from 19·1 to 16·3 Ma for the sections of Sampieri and Modica (Sicily). For the second phase of phosphogenesis on the Maltese Islands, a consistent hiatus was found which embraces the time period of approximately 17 to 15 Ma. Also the third phase of phosphogenesis appears to be associated with a major hiatus, which probably envelops the time period between 12·5 and 10·9 Ma, but a better age control is needed here.

The correspondence in timing of the Maltese-Sicilian phases of phosphogenesis with major phases of phosphogenesis outside the Mediterranean realm, to maxima in oceanic phosphorus-burial rates and maxima in the δ13C benthic foraminiferal record suggests that the palaeoceanographic evolution of the eastern Mediterranean was well in phase with that of other ocean basins until at least the early Late Miocene, despite its increasing isolation due to the gradual closure of the Eurasian-Arabian Strait and progressive sea-level fall.