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Cambrian–Ordovician sedimentary rocks of Alaska

November 6, 2012

Cambrian-Lower Ordovician carbonate rocks that likely formed as part of the Laurentian continental margin, and may thus have been part of the Cambrian-Ordovician great American carbonate bank, occur in east-central Alaska in the Nation Arch area. These strata accumulated on the southwestern margin (present-day coordinates) of the Yukon stable block, a broad area of early Paleozoic carbonate platform deposition in the northern Yukon Territory, and constitute two successions. The first consists of approximately 900 m (∼2950 ft) of shallow-water limestone and dolostone that are in part silicified, laminated, oolitic, and pisolitic, and make up the lower member of the Jones Ridge Limestone. Conodonts, trilobites, archaeo-cyathids, and brachiopods indicate an age of Early Cambrian to early Early Ordovician (Tremadoc; Ibexian) and have Laurentian biogeographic affinities. Upper Ordovician bio-clastic limestone (the upper member of the Jones Ridge Limestone) unconformably overlies these strata.

A roughly coeval, but somewhat deeper water, succession crops out near the Jones Ridge Limestone and consists of, in ascending order, the Funnel Creek Limestone, Adams Argillite, and Hillard Limestone. The Funnel Creek (15-400 m [50-1310 ft] thick) is mainly nonfossilif-erous, extensively silicified, commonly oolitic limestone and dolostone and is assumed to be Lower Cambrian in age. It is overlain by argillite, siltstone, cross-laminated quartzite, and oolitic to sandy limestone of the Adams Argillite (90-180 m [295-550 ft] thick). This unit contains the trace fossil Oldhamia and Lower Cambrian archaeocyathids and trilobites that have Siberian affinities. The Hillard (30-150 m [100-490 ft] thick) is chiefly limestone, with local ooids, edgewise and boulder conglomerate, and phosphatic horizons, and likely formed in a platform-margin setting. Trilobites and brachiopods from this unit are Early Cambrian to earliest Ordovician in age and have mainly Laurentian affinities. Slope and/or basinal rocks of the Road River Formation that are as old as Early Ordovician (early middle Arenig; Ibexian) unconformably overlie the Hillard Limestone. Abrupt facies transitions between the two Nation Arch area carbonate successions may reflect relatively steep paleoslopes and/or telescoping of facies by imbricate thrust faults.

Carbonate strata of Cambrian–Ordovician age are also found north of the Nation Arch area in the Porcupine terrane. These rocks have been little studied, and their precise Stratigraphic succession and paleogeographic setting are uncertain. The few fossil collections indicate mainly Laurentian affinities and include Cambrian(?) trilobites and Lower and Middle Ordovician conodonts. Lower Paleozoic strata of the Porcupine terrane probably formed at or near the northwestern edge (present-day coordinates) of the Yukon stable block.

Cambrian–Ordovician carbonate strata occur widely in northern Alaska (parts of the Arctic Alaska, York, and Seward terranes) and interior Alaska (Farewell terrane). These rocks share distinctive lithologic and faunal features and were deposited in a range of shallow-shelf to basinal environments. Carbonate platform successions in northern and interior Alaska include fossils of both Laurentian and Siberian biotic provinces and may have formed on a single crustal fragment that rifted away from the Siberian craton during the late Proterozoic. These Alaskan strata were most likely in faunal exchange with, but not physically attached to, the great American carbonate bank.

Lower–Middle Ordovician carbonate and siliciclastic rocks are also found in the White Mountains, Livengood, and Ruby terranes of interior Alaska, the Alexander terrane in southeastern Alaska, and the Goodnews terrane in southwestern Alaska. These successions were likely not attached to Laurentia during their deposition, although some authors have proposed Laurentian origins for the White Mountains and Livengood terranes.

Little detailed information is available on the resource potential of Cambrian–Ordovician successions in Alaska. Most have low porosity and are too thermally mature to be prospective for oil and gas, although a few units in east-central and northern Alaska may have some potential as petroleum source and reservoir rocks. Strata of this age have potential for metallic mineral resources; strata-bound Zn-Pb ± Ag occurrences are known in the Funnel Creek Limestone in east-central Alaska, as well as several units of possible Cambrian and/or Ordovician age in northern and interior Alaska.

Publication Year 2012
Title Cambrian–Ordovician sedimentary rocks of Alaska
Authors Julie A. Dumoulin, Anita G. Harris
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70200641
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Geology Minerals