The uppermost Yates and Tansill formations (Late Permian), as exposed along Walnut Canyon in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, USA, provide a unique opportunity to document the depositional architecture of a progradational, oversteepened, and mechanically failure-prone carbonate platform. Detailed facies mapping permitted critical assessment of depositional processes operating along this structurally dynamic platform margin. At the shelf crest, thick (12 m), vertically stacked fenestral-pisolite-tepee complexes indicate a stable shoreline. Early lithification of sediments and extensive cementation fostered rapid vertical accretion and allowed the shelf crest to easily adjust to base-level oscillations by stepping landward, stepping seaward, or aggrading. This production imbalance-in combination with syndepositional brittle failure and down-to-the-basin tilting(< 5??)-generated 22 m of depositional relief as measured from nearly horizontal (< 2??) shelf-crest toplap to an outer-shelf downlap surface (< 1??). Mechanical failure of Capitan-equivalent back-reef strata is constrained by stratigraphic architecture, fracture properties, and a highly refined fusulinid biostratigraphic framework. Where fractures tip out, down-to-the-basin rotation is often observed with concurrent seaward thickening of overlying beds, indicating that such fractures functioned as a syndepositional hinge. A facies disjunction and horizontally juxtaposed fusulinid zonation were documented across an 80?? seaward-dipping dilational fracture filled with polymict breccia. An overlying damage zone consisting of spar-cemented fractures nested within silt-filled fractures illustrates periodic reactivation. Field relationships indicate that the dilational fracture approximates a paleoescarpment that resulted from catastrophic failure of the Capitan platform margin. Younger strata onlapped the paleoescarpment and gradually filled the reentrant. This mechanically compromised paleoescarpment was subsequently reactivated during the latest Guadalupian lowstand and was subaerially filled by siliciclastics and polymict breccia derived from the platform top. Results from Walnut Canyon indicate that shelf crest aggradation dominantly controlled the shelf-crest to outer-shelf profile, although this was temporarily modified by brittle failure and down-to-the-basin tilting, and mass wasting. Copyright ?? 2010, SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology).
Additional publication details
Stratigraphic response across a structurally dynamic shelf: The latest guadalupian composite sequence at Walnut Canyon, New Mexico, U.S.A