Models for the deposition of Mesozoic-Cenozoic fine-grained organic-carbon-rich sediment in the deep sea

Michael Allan Arthur, W. E. Dean, D. A V Stow

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The widespread occurrence of organic-carbon-rich strata ('black shales') in certain portions of Jurassic, Cretaceous and Cenozoic sequences has been well-documented from Deep Sea Drilling Project sites in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and from sequences, now exposed on land, originally deposited in the Tethyan ocean. These ancient black shales usually have been explained by analogy with examples of modern deep-sea sediments in which organic matter locally is preserved by (1) increasing the supply of organic matter, (2) increasing the rate of sedimentation, and/or (3) decreasing the oxygen content of the bottom water. However, detailed examination of many black shales reveals characteristics that cannot be explained by simple local models, including: their approximate coincidence in time globally; their occurrence in a variety of different environments, including open oxygenated oceans, restricted basins, deep and shallow water; their interbedding with organic-carbonpoor strata which often dominate a so-called black shale sequence; their deposition by pelagic, hemipelagic, turbiditic and other processes; and the variations in type and amount of organic matter that occur even within the same sequence.A more complex model for the origin of black shales therefore appears most appropriate, in which the cyclic preservation of organic matter depends on the interplay of the three main variables, namely supply of organic matter, sedimentation rate, and deep-water oxygenation, each of which varies independently to some extent. The variation and relative importance of these parameters in individual basins and widespread black shale deposition in general are linked globally and temporally by changes in global sea-level, climate and related changes in oceanic circulation. An important and often overlooked factor for the supply of organic matter to deep-basin sediments is the frequency and magnitude of redepositional processes. The interplay of these variables is discussed in relation to the middle Cretaceous and Cenozoic organic-carbon-rich strata, in particular, which show marked differences in the relative importance of the different variables.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-560
Number of pages34
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
StatePublished - Dec 1 1984

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Geology


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