Arid continental basins typically contain a spectrum of coeval environments that coexist and interact from proximal to distal. Within the distal portion, aeolian ergs often border playa, or perennial, desert lakes, fed by fluvial incursions or elevated groundwaters. Evaporites are common features in these dryland, siliciclastic dominant settings. However, sedimentary controls upon evaporite deposition are not widely understood, especially within transitional zones between coeval clastic environments that are dominantly controlled by larger scale allocyclic processes, such as climate. The sulphur (δ34S) and oxygen (δ18O, Δ17O) isotope systematics of evaporites can reveal cryptic aspects of sedimentary cycling and sulphate sources in dryland settings. However, due to the lack of sedimentological understanding of evaporitic systems, isotopic data can be easily misinterpreted. This work presents detailed sedimentological and petrographic observations, coupled with δ34S, δ18O and Δ17O data, for the early Permian Cedar Mesa Sandstone Formation (western USA). Depositional models for mixed evaporitic/clastic sedimentation, which occurs either in erg-marginal or lacustrine-marginal settings, are presented to detail the sedimentary interactions present in terms of climate variations that control them. Sedimentological and petrographical analysis of the evaporites within the Cedar Mesa Sandstone Formation reveal a continental depositional environment and two end member depositional models have been developed: erg-margin and lake-margin. The δ34S values of gypsum deposits within the Cedar Mesa Sandstone Formation are consistent with late Carboniferous to early Permian marine settings. However, a marine interpretation is inconsistent with sedimentological and petrographic evidence. Consequently, δ34S, δ18O and Δ17O values are probably recycled and do not reflect ocean-atmosphere values at the time of evaporite precipitation. They are most likely derived from the weathering of older marine evaporites in the hinterland. Thus, the results demonstrate the need for a combination of both sedimentological and geochemical analysis of evaporitic systems to better understand their depositional setting and conditions.
This research was supported by grants to RPP from the AAPG (Gustavus E. Archie Memorial Grant) and by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant 678812 to MWC). The authors thank The U.S. National Park Service, the Rangers of Canyonlands National Park and the Navajo Nation for permitting field-based data collection. Kathleen Benison, Steven Banham and Bernard Besly are thanked for their constructive comments and reviews of earlier versions of this manuscript. Andrew Mitten and David Cousins are thanked for assistance in the field. We thank Yongbo Peng and Huiming Bao at the OASIC laboratory (Louisiana State University) for their assistance in measuring oxygen isotopes.
Data Availability StatementThe data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
- Cedar Mesa Sandstone
- playa lakes