Sediment geochemistry as a provenance indicator: Unravelling the cryptic signatures of polycyclic sources, climate change, tectonism and volcanism



Interpretation of bulk-sediment geochemistry is one of several approaches for determining sediment provenance. This study investigates the value added by bulk-sediment geochemical analysis in interpreting provenance in a passive margin clastic basin, the Upper Jurassic–Lower Cretaceous deltaic sediments of the Scotian Basin. Provenance studies in this basin are challenging because source tectonic terranes are parallel to the basin margin and polycyclic sediment sources are abundant. More than 400 samples of mudstone and sandstone representing the geographical and stratigraphic range of interest were analysed for 57 elements. Diagenetic processes added calcium to many samples and removed potassium in rocks buried below 3 km, thus impacting principal component analysis and published weathering indices. However, multiple geochemical approaches to assessing the degree of weathering showed climatically controlled changes in weathering in the Tithonian and Barremian, and changes in supply from major tectonic events, such as the top-Aptian uplift in the Labrador rift. Covariance of elements in heavy minerals demonstrates the varying magnitude of polycyclic supply and stratigraphic changes in sources. Geochemical analyses revealed a previously unsuspected Tithonian alkali volcanic sediment source, characterized by high niobium and tantalum. The lack of highly contrasting sources means that geochemistry alone is inadequate to determine sediment provenance. Published discrimination diagrams are of limited value. Statistical analysis of geochemical data is strongly influenced by diagenetic processes, episodic volcanic inputs and polycyclic concentration of resistant heavy minerals in sandstones. Single indicator elements for particular sources are generally lacking. Nevertheless, careful consideration of geochemical variability on a case by case basis, integrated with detrital mineral studies, provides new insights into palaeoclimate, sediment provenance and, hence, regional tectonics. Although there is no simple template for such analysis, this study demonstrates an approach that can be used for other basins.