Characterization and interpretation of discontinuity surfaces in a Jurassic ramp setting (High Atlas, Morocco)



Discontinuity surfaces are widely recognized but often poorly understood features of epeiric carbonate settings. In sedimentary systems, these features often represent hiatus surfaces below biostratigraphic resolution and may represent a considerable portion of the time contained in the sediment record. From an applied perspective, discontinuities may represent horizontal flow barriers and result in reservoir compartmentalization. Here, a total of 80 condensed surfaces (S1), firmgrounds (S2) and hardgrounds (S3) from a Jurassic (Middle and Upper Bajocian Assoul Formation) ramp setting of the High Atlas in Morocco are carefully documented with respect to their morphology, their secondary impregnation by Fe and Mn oxides and phosphates and their palaeoecological record. A statistical frequency distribution of two surfaces of the S1 type, 1·1 surfaces of the S2 type and 0·4 surfaces of the S3 type per 10 section metres is observed along a 220 m long carbonate succession. Based on two stratigraphically and spatially separated study windows and correlative sections, the stratigraphic frequency distribution, the lateral extent and the nature of facies change across discontinuities are documented in a quantitative manner. Specific features of the study site include the considerable stratigraphic thickness of the Assoul Formation and the conspicuous absence of subaerial-exposure-related features. Based on the data presented here, firmground and hardground surfaces are best interpreted as maximum-regression-related features. Relative sea-level lowstand results in a lowered wave base, and wave orbitals and currents result in sea floor omission and lithification. Care must be taken to avoid overly simplistic interpretations, as differences in bathymetry and carbonate facies result in marked changes in discontinuity characteristics in proximal–distal transects. The data shown here are of significance for those concerned with the interpretation of shoal water carbonate environments and are instrumental in the building of more realistic carbonate reservoir flow models.