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Deep incision in an Aptian carbonate succession indicates major sea-level fall in the Cretaceous



Long-term relative sea-level cycles (0·5 to 6 Myr) have yet to be fully understood for the Cretaceous. During the Aptian, in the northern Maestrat Basin (Eastern Iberian Peninsula), fault-controlled subsidence created depositional space, but eustasy governed changes in depositional trends. Relative sea-level history was reconstructed by sequence stratigraphic analysis. Two forced regressive stages of relative sea-level were recognized within three depositional sequences. The first stage is late Early Aptian age (intra Dufrenoyia furcata Zone) and is characterized by foreshore to upper shoreface sedimentary wedges, which occur detached from a highstand carbonate platform, and were deposited above basin marls. The amplitude of relative sea-level drop was in the order of tens of metres, with a duration of <1 Myr. The second stage of relative sea-level fall occurred within the Late Aptian and is recorded by an incised valley that, when restored to its pre-contractional attitude, was >2 km wide and cut ≥115 m down into the underlying Aptian succession. With the subsequent transgression, the incision was backfilled with peritidal to shallow subtidal deposits. The changes in depositional trends, lithofacies evolution and geometric relation of the stratigraphic units characterized are similar to those observed in coeval rocks within the Maestrat Basin, as well as in other correlative basins elsewhere. The pace and magnitude of the two relative sea-level drops identified fall within the glacio-eustatic domain. In the Maestrat Basin, terrestrial palynological studies provide evidence that the late Early and Late Aptian climate was cooler than the earliest part of the Early Aptian and the Albian Stage, which were characterized by warmer environmental conditions. The outcrops documented here are significant because they preserve the results of Aptian long-term sea-level trends that are often only recognizable on larger scales (i.e. seismic), such as for the Arabian Plate.