Compositional changes in sigmoidal carbonate clinoforms (Late Tithonian, eastern Sardinia, Italy): insights from quantitative microfacies analyses

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Quantitative analysis of sediment composition was performed on a kilometre wide section of Upper Tithonian low relief (up to 70 m), gently inclined (3° to 15°), sigmoidal carbonate clinoforms (eastern Sardinia) to identify changes in sediment composition along the slope and across the studied succession. These changes may reflect modifications of the carbonate factory and of processes responsible for sediment transport. Point-count analysis of carbonate microfacies, Q-mode/R-mode cluster analysis and Spearman’s rank provided a composition-based classification of microfacies and highlighted relationships among sediment components. The studied clinoforms are mainly composed of non-skeletal grains (70%), such as peloids and lithoclasts, together with micrite and cements and only a limited contribution from coated grains (2%). Among skeletal grains (28%), the greatest contribution derives from a coral–stromatoporoid–encruster reef that provided 15% of the components. Crinoids, brachiopods and other along-slope thriving biota provided nearly 5% of the allochems, whilst fragments of molluscs (gastropods, bivalves and diceratids) from the backreef sourced another 2%. The contribution of platform interior biota is negligible (1%). The association of composition-based facies varies along the slope. The upper slope beds consist of coral-stromatoporoid grainstone to rudstone; the middle slope deposits are dominated by encruster-lithoclast grainstone and packstone. At the lower slope, peloidal lithoclastic packstone as well as brachiopod–crinoidal wackestone prevail. Also the association of skeletal grains changes along the slope. The encruster–frame builder association typifies the upper slope whilst encrusters characterize the middle slope sediments. In the lower slope encrusters are equally represented as the brachiopod–crinoid association. Along-slope compositional changes evidence a scarce downslope transport of frame builders and a progressive enrichment in along-slope thriving biota. Quantitative analysis of microfacies allowed the sigmoidal clinoforms to be grouped into six sets. Each set gathers sigmoids with a similar sediment composition. Coated grains are dominant in the first set whilst they are lacking in the overlying sets reflecting a change in the carbonate factory. Other major compositional changes among the sets concern the relative amounts of peloids, micrite, frame builders (corals and stromatoporoids) and encrusters. The contribution of peloids varies inversely to that of cements and micrite as evidenced in the third and fifth sets which, respectively, record the highest occurrence of peloids or cement and micrite. Variations in the amount of frame builders and encrusters are instead non-linear. High percentages of both frame builders and encrusters, as recorded in the second and fifth sets, are related to low amounts of peloids and lithoclasts that probably reflect episodes of reduced background sedimentation. This study demonstrates that quantitative analysis of carbonate microfacies represents a powerful tool that can improve the reconstruction of the stacking pattern in carbonate slope successions both in outcrop and in subsurface settings.

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