Field trip guidebook for the post-meeting field trip: The Central Appalachians

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The lower Paleozoic rocks to be examined on this trip through the central Appalachians represent an extreme range of depositional environments. The lithofacies we will examine range from pelagic radiolarian chert and interbedded mudstone that originated on the deep floor of the Iapetus Ocean, through mud cracked supratidal dolomitic laminites that formed during episodes of emergence of the long-lived Laurentian carbonate platform, to meandering fluvial conglomerate and interstratified overbank mudstone packages deposited in the latest stages of infilling of the Taconic foredeep. In many ways this field trip is about contrasts. The Upper Cambrian (Furongian) and Lower Ordovician deposits of the Sauk megasequence record deposition controlled primarily by eustatic sea level sea level fluctuations that influenced deposition along the passive, southern (Appalachian) margin of the paleocontinent of Laurentia. The only tectonic influence apparent in these passive margin deposits is the expected thickening of the carbonate stack toward the platform margin as compared to the thinner (and typically shallower) facies that formed farther in toward the paleoshoreline. Carbonates overwhelmingly dominate the passive margin succession. Clastic influx was minimal and consisted largely of eastward transport of clean cratonic sands across the platform from the adjacent inner detrital belt to the west during higher order (2nd and 3rd order) regressions.

In contrast, Middle and Upper Ordovician deposits of the Tippecanoe megasequence record the strong influence of tectonics, specifically Iapetus closure. The first signal of this tectonic transformation was the arrival of arc-related ash beds that abound in the active margin carbonates. Subsequent intensification of Taconic orogenesis resulted in the foundering of the carbonate platform under the onslaught of fine siliciclastics arriving from offshore tectonic sources to the east, creating a deep marine flysch basin where graptolitic shale and sandstone turbidites accumulated. The foreland basin thus created would fill with progressively coarser and more shallow/proximal clastic facies through the Upper Ordovician, culminating in deposition of fluvial redbeds that cap the Taconic clastic wedge. Arguably the most controversial rocks within the Tippecanoe Sequence in this area are unusual, Lower Ordovician deep marine facies that are associated with the much younger flysch of the Martinsburg Formation in the Great Valley of eastern Pennsylvania. Long considered the erosional remnants of a Taconic-style thrust sheet, and referred to as the Hamburg Klippe, these deep marine deposits have recently been reinterpreted as olistostromal deposits that were introduced by gravity sliding into the flysch basin contemporaneous with Martinsburg deposition.

Besides their constituent lithofacies, rocks of the Sauk and Tippecanoe megasequences also present a stark contrast in faunas. Cambrian and Lower Ordovician faunas predate the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE), a global event that saw unprecedented diversification within many major invertebrate groups (mollusks, corals, and bryozoans to name a few) that previously were only minor components of the marine fauna. Unfortunately, the much higher diversity of Middle and Upper Ordovician faunas wrought by the GOBE is somewhat muted in this region by the stresses introduced by conversion of the Appalachian shelf into a flysch basin. Another noteworthy difference between the Cambrian and Ordovician biota related to the paleogeographic setting of the rocks to be examined on this trip derives from their evolution in the shallow marine environments of Laurentia. Several shelf-wide extinctions decimated the shallow marine faunas of the Laurentian shelf through the late Cambrian producing stage-level biostratigraphic units known as biomeres. The biomere phenomenon is discussed in this guidebook and a few stops to examine Cambrian faunas and one biomere boundary extinction are included to provide contrast with stage boundary extinctions that occurred later, in the Ordovician, that lack the defining attributes of the biomere boundary extinctions. Again, it’s all about contrast.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Field trip guidebook for the post-meeting field trip: The Central Appalachians
Series title Stratigraphy
Volume 12
Issue 3-4
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Micropress
Contributing office(s) Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center
Description 117 p.
First page 297
Last page 413
Country United States
Other Geospatial Central Appalachians
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