Absolute depths of Silurian benthic assemblages

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Abstract

A variety of evidence can be used to estimate the absolute depth of the well-established depth gradient of Silurian onshore-to-offshore benthic assemblages (BA 1–5); this evidence is reviewed herein. There is a fair degree of consistency between fossil benthic assemblages and the occurrence of certain primary sedimentary structures, particularly those involved in storm deposition. A second, probably stronger, line of evidence for absolute depth of Silurian benthic assemblages involves the distribution of fossils of light-sensitive organisms and of reefs. Among these, the most important are the calcified dasycladacean algae, to which the cyclocrinitids of the Middle Ordovician - Early Silurian may belong. The modem dasycladaceans have a narrowly restricted bathymetric range. Maximum depth for modern calcified dasycladaceans is about 90 m, but the vast majority occur at 30 m or less. Some Silurian occurrences of these algae are abundant, particularly in BA 3 and 4; rarely, small specimens of cyclocrinitids and receptaculitids are found in the lower, outer portions of BA 4 and even into 5. This evidence constrains much of the spectrum (BA 1–5) of Silurian fossil communities to a rather narrow depth range, within the photic zone. Based on taxonomic uniformitarianism, we would place the depth of Silurian BA 1 through 4 between 0 and about 40–60 m. The common coincidence of the lower end of storm wave base and the lower end of the photic zone near the BA 4–5 boundary also suggests that this position may represent water depths on the order of 50 m. Several other lines of evidence -including algal borings, widths of facies belts, separation of communities by basalt flows whose thicknesses are known - also support a relatively shallow depth range for BA 14. The absence of storm-disturbed beds over large parts of several major platforms below about the BA 3–4 boundary region suggests that major storms of the Silurian may have been far weaker than those of the present, possibly owing to a different climatic regime. □Absolute depth, Silurian, photic zone, calcareous algae, Benthic Assemblage, storms.

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