Quartzite development in early Palaeozoic nearshore marine environments



Quartzites are especially characteristic of Proterozoic and Cambro-Ordovician shallow marine strata, whereas equivalent age fluvial deposits are commonly arkosic. The absence of land vegetation in the pre-Silurian influenced weathering processes and styles of fluvial deposition. It may also have had an impact on shallow marine sedimentation. Two field studies from the English Channel region are presented to investigate the processes leading to quartzite formation. On Alderney, nearshore marine and fluvial facies occur interbedded on a metre scale and are interpreted to represent deposition on the lower reaches of an alluvial plain, and in beach and upper shoreface environments. The marine and fluvial sandstones display marked differences in textural and mineralogical maturity, pointing to a process of sediment maturation by the destruction of feldspar and labile grains at the shoreline. At Erquy, fully mature, marine quartzites occur bounded above and below by alluvial deposits via sharp or erosional surfaces, and are interpreted to represent high energy, storm and tidally influenced lower shoreface and inner shelf deposits. A model for quartzite development is proposed where, under a cool climate, frequent storms in un-vegetated, tectonically rejuvenated uplands provided an abundance of arkosic sand to fluvial basins and clastic shorelines. The model proposes that the marine basins were subject to high wave energies, frequent storm events and tidal currents. These were conditions conducive to transforming arkosic sand to quartz-rich sand by the attrition of feldspar at the shoreline and in the shallow marine environment. On sediment burial, further feldspar destruction occurred during diagenesis. The proposed model highlights the potential for a step change in sediment maturity to occur at the shoreline in early Palaeozoic depositional systems tracts.