The influence of authigenic clay formation on the mineralogy and stable isotopic record of lacustrine carbonates

Thomas F. Bristow*, Martin J. Kennedy, Keith D. Morrison, David D. Mrofka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The mineralogical, compositional and stable isotopic variability of lacustrine carbonates are frequently used as proxies for ancient paleoenvironmental change in continental settings, under the assumption that precipitated carbonates reflect conditions and chemistry of ancient lake waters. In some saline and alkaline lake systems, however, authigenic clay minerals, forming at or near the sediment water interface, are a major sedimentary component. Often these clays are rich in Mg, influencing the geochemical budget of lake waters, and are therefore expected to influence the properties of contemporaneous authigenic carbonate precipitates (which may also contain Mg). This paper documents evidence for a systematic feedback between clay mineral and carbonate authigenesis through multiple precessionally driven, m-scale sedimentary cycles in lacustrine oil-shale deposits of the Eocene Green River Formation from the Uinta Basin (NE Utah). In the studied section, authigenic, Mg-rich, trioctahedral smectite content varies cyclically between 9 and 39wt.%. The highest concentrations occur in oil-shales and calcareous mudstones deposited during high lake level intervals that favored sedimentary condensation, lengthening the time available for clay diagenesis and reducing dilution by other siliciclastic phases. An inverse relation between dolomite percentage of carbonate and trioctahedral smectite abundance suggests the Mg uptake during clay authigenesis provides a first order control on carbonate mineralogy that better explains carbonate mineralogical trends than the possible alternative controls of (1) variable Mg/Ca ratios in lake water and (2) degree of microbial activity in sediments. We also observe that cyclical change in carbonate mineralogy, believed to be induced by clay authigenesis, also causes isotopic covariation between δ 13C PDB and δ 18O PDB of bulk sediments because of differences in the equilibrium fractionation factors of dolomite and calcite (∼2‰ and ∼2.6%, respectively). This provides an alternative mechanism for the common pattern of isotopic covariation, which is typically attributed to the effect of simultaneous changes in water balance and biological activity on the carbon and oxygen isotopic composition of lake waters. These findings may help improve paleoenvironmental reconstructions based on lacustrine carbonate records by adding to the factors known to influence the mineralogical, compositional and stable isotopic signals recorded by lacustrine carbonates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-82
Number of pages19
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


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