A marine origin for the late Mesoproterozoic Copper Harbor and Nonesuch Formations of the Midcontinent Rift of Laurentia
Jones, SM and Prave, AR and Raub, TD and Cloutier, J and Stueken, EE and Rose, CV and Linnekogel, S and Nazarov, K, A marine origin for the late Mesoproterozoic Copper Harbor and Nonesuch Formations of the Midcontinent Rift of Laurentia, Precambrian Research, 336 Article 105510. ISSN 0301-9268 (2020) [Refereed Article]
The c. 1.1 Ga Copper Harbor and Nonesuch Formations of the Keweenawan Supergroup exposed along the Canadian-United States shorelines of Lake Superior are part of the surface exposures of the Laurentian Midcontinent Rift. These units have long been considered non-marine in origin and have figured prominently in ideas regarding the evolution of microbial life and the redox conditions of Earth’s ocean-atmosphere system at the close of Mesoproterozoic time. However, these rocks also host hydrothermal metal deposits, the emplacement of which may have compromised primary geochemical signals that are used to underpin those ideas. Here we highlight new sedimentological observations to provide an independent framework for assessing the depositional setting and geochemistry of those strata. We show that the totality of sedimentological features leads to the conclusion that parts of the upper Copper Harbor Formation and the entirety of the Nonesuch Formation were deposited along tide- and wave-influenced shorelines and in shallow-marine settings under evaporitic conditions. Evidence for this interpretation includes the abundance of flaser, wavy, linsen and pinstripe bedding, ubiquity of reactivation surfaces and mud drapes associated with all ripple forms, superposed sets of ripple cross-lamination showing bimodal (herring-bone) sediment transport directions, desiccation cracks and metre-scale hummocky cross-stratification. Further, evaporite fabrics and pseudomorphs after gypsum in the upper 200 m of the Copper Harbor Formation and in numerous stratigraphic positions within the Nonesuch Formation indicate that the water body was saline, not fresh. The emerging palaeogeographic image is one of a large, shallow-marine embayment with fringing sabkha-like shorelines. Ideas about late Mesoproterozoic biospheric evolution and Earth’s surface redox and oxygenation that rely on the Nonesuch Formation and Copper Harbor stromatolites having been deposited within a lacustrine setting require reassessment.