Evaluation of bulk carbonate δ13C data from Triassic hemipelagites and the initial composition of carbonate mud

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Abstract

Bulk carbonate samples of hemipelagic limestone–marl alternations from the Middle and Upper Triassic of Italy are analysed for their isotopic compositions. Middle Triassic samples are representative of the Livinallongo Formation of the Dolomites, while Upper Triassic hemipelagites were sampled in the Pignola 2 section, within the Calcari con Selce Formation of the Southern Apennines in Southern Italy. Triassic hemipelagites occur either as nodular limestones with chert nodules or as plane-bedded limestone–marl alternations which are locally silicified. In the Middle Triassic Livinallongo Formation, diagenetic alteration primarily affected the stable isotopic composition of sediment surrounding carbonate nodules, whereas the latter show almost pristine compositions. Diagenesis lowered the carbon and oxygen isotope values of bulk carbonate and introduced a strong correlation between δ13C and δ18O values. In the Middle Triassic successions of the Dolomites, bulk carbonate of nodular limestone facies is most commonly unaltered, whereas carbonate of the plane-bedded facies is uniformly affected by diagenetic alteration. In contrast to carbonate nodules, plane-bedded facies often show compaction features. Although both types of pelagic carbonate rocks show very similar petrographic characteristics, scanning electron microscopy studies reveal that nodular limestone consists of micrite (< 5 μm in diameter), whereas samples of the plane-bedded facies are composed of calcite crystals ca 10 μm in size showing pitted, polished surfaces. These observations suggest that nodular and plane-bedded facies underwent different diagenetic pathways determined by the prevailing mineralogy of the precursor sediment, i.e. probably high-Mg calcite in the nodular facies and aragonite in the case of the plane-bedded facies. Similar to Middle Triassic nodular facies, Upper Triassic nodular limestones of the Lagonegro Basin are also characterized by uncorrelated δ13C and δ18O values and exhibit small, less than 5 μm size, crystals. The alternation of calcitic and aragonitic precursors in the Middle Triassic of the Dolomites is thought to mirror rapid changes in the type of carbonate production of adjacent platforms. Bioturbation and dissolution of metastable carbonate grains played a key role during early lithification of nodular limestone beds, whereby early stabilization recorded the carbon isotopic composition of sea water. The bulk carbonate δ13C values of Middle and Upper Triassic hemipelagites from Italy agree with those of Tethyan low-Mg calcite shells of articulate brachiopods, confirming that Triassic hemipelagites retained the primary carbon isotopic composition of the bottom sea water. A trend of increasing δ13C from the Late Anisian to the Early Carnian, partly seen in the data set presented here, is also recognized in successions from tropical palaeolatitudes elsewhere. The carbon isotopic composition of Middle and Upper Triassic nodular hemipelagic limestones can thus be used for chemostratigraphic correlation and palaeoenvironmental studies.

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