Palaeo-environment in an ancient low-latitude, arid lacustrine basin with loessite: The Smith Bank Formation (Early Triassic) in the Central North Sea, UK Continental Shelf

Anne D. Wilkins, Andrew Hurst, M. J. Wilson, Stuart Archer

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Predominantly fine-grained strata were deposited in the Smith Bank Formation (Early Triassic) in the Central North Sea area of the Northern Permian Basin. Previously regarded as monotonous red claystone, examination of continuous core reveals abundant stratification, significant variation in colour, siltstone as the prevalent average grain size, and claystone is rare. Loessite occurs beyond the north-western lacustrine margin and aerosol dust has inundated clay pellets derived from aeolian reworking of the desiccated lake floor. The loessite has limited evidence of pluvial reworking but rare fossil roots testify to sufficient moisture to sustain plants. Loessite has not previously been successfully differentiated from other fine-grained strata in the subsurface but this study defines the presence of random grain-fabric orientation as an intrinsic unequivocal characteristic of loessite that formed during air-fall deposition of aerosol dust. Comparison with outcrop data verifies the utility of grain fabric to differentiate loessite. Tosudite, an aluminous di-octahedral regularly ordered mixed-layer chlorite/smectite, which is rare in sedimentary rock, forms a significant proportion (10 to 21%) of the clay mineral fraction of loessite along with a similar quantity of kaolinite. In all other samples, only illite and chlorite are identified, which is typical of fine-grained Triassic strata. In a location, close to the southern lake margin, lacustrine strata are characterised by fining-upward couplets of very-fine grained sandstone into siltstone and mudstone, with occasional desiccated surfaces. Small sand injections and associated sand extrusions are common and indicate periodic fluidisation of sand. Precise stratigraphic location of the Smith Bank Formation is problematic because of extremely sparse fossil preservation however there is no sedimentological evidence for a period of hyper-aridity known from the early Olenekian in continental Europe, which may mean that the North Permian Basin was never hyper-arid or that the Smith Bank Formation is restricted to the Induan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-359
Number of pages25
Issue number2
Early online date10 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

This work was conducted as part of the Triassic Mudstones Joint Industry Project which was sponsored by BP, ConocoPhillips, EON E&P, Esso Exploration and Production UK Limited, GDF SUEZ E&P UK Ltd, JX Nippon, Maersk Oil, Shell and Total. The guidance of Prof. Steve Hillier of the James Hutton Institute in quantitative mineralogical analysis is acknowledged with gratitude. Dr Stuart Jones and an anonymous referee are thanked for their incisive and constructive reviews that significantly helped in the revision of the manuscript.


  • Aeolian
  • arid
  • Early Triassic
  • lacustrine
  • loessite
  • palaeoclimate
  • siltstone
  • wind-blown


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