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Reconstructing the paleoceanographic and redox conditions responsible for variations in uranium content in North American Devonian black shales

December 27, 2021

The uranium (U) content, and more recently, the ratio between 238U and 235U in black shales are commonly applied as a proxy to determine redox conditions and infer organic-richness. Uranium contents typically display a linear relationship with total organic carbon (TOC) in shales. This relationship is due to the processes and mechanisms responsible for the incorporation of U into the sediment during the deposition and remineralization of organic matter. This U/TOC relationship can vary, however, and some shales display uncharacteristically low U content despite having high TOC content, while others show large enrichments of U relative to TOC. Here we examine the U to TOC ratios and U-isotope compositions of three Upper Devonian-Lower Mississippian shales: the Woodford Shale, the Cleveland Shale, and the Bakken Shale, with two study sites in Oklahoma, one site in eastern Kentucky, and three sites in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, respectively. The U/TOC ratios of each shale are distinct from one another exhibiting average ratios ranging from 3 in the Cleveland Shale, to over 10 in the Bakken Shale. The distinct geochemical composition of the three shales suggests that, although lithologically similar, each study site represents a markedly different and dynamic depositional environment. The low average U/TOC (~3) along with the relatively high δ238U values (~0.03‰) of the Cleveland Shale core suggests deposition along the basin margin under normal marine conditions with periods of reduced bottom water oxygenation, likely due to fluctuations in the location of the pycnocline. The Woodford Shale on the other hand, shows higher U/TOC ratios (~4, George core, ~9, Poe core) and δ238U (~0.02‰ average, George core, ~0.06‰ average, Poe core), which suggests an unrestricted setting with intermittent euxinic conditions. In contrast, high U/TOC ratios (2–15), and very high δ238U values (up to 0.55‰) in the Bakken Shale cores indicate intense metal draw-down into sediments under sulfidic waters. The results show that when the U/TOC ratios and U-isotopic compositions of each studied shale are compared to modern anoxic basins and upwelling areas, it allows for an enhanced understanding of the paleoenvironmental conditions such as basin restriction and redox state of waters within the Late Devonian epicontinental seas of North America.

Publication Year 2022
Title Reconstructing the paleoceanographic and redox conditions responsible for variations in uranium content in North American Devonian black shales
DOI 10.1016/j.palaeo.2021.110763
Authors Michelle L. Abshire, Natascha Riedinger, John M. Clymer, Clint Scott, Silke Severmann, Stephen J. Romaniello, James O. Puckette
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Index ID 70246520
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Energy Resources Science Center; Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center