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Read, J. Fred, and John E. Repetski, 2012, Cambrian–lower Middle Ordovician passive carbonate margin, southern Appalachians, in J. R. Derby, R. D. Fritz, S. A. Longacre, W. A. Morgan, and C. A. Sternbach, eds., The great American carbonate bank: The geology and economic resources of the Cambrian–Ordovician Sauk megasequence of Laurentia: AAPG Memoir 98, p. 357382.


Copyright copy2012 by The American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Cambrian–Lower Middle Ordovician Passive Carbonate Margin, Southern Appalachians

J. Fred Read,1 John E. Repetski2

1Department of Geosciences, Virginia Tech, Department of Geosciences, Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.
2U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia, U.S.A.


We thank all the former students of Virginia Tech who worked on the Cambrian–Ordovician carbonates (Jim Derby, Russ Pfeil, John Bova, Jim Markello, Bill Mussman, Roger Barnaby, Bill Koerschner, Dave Osleger, Isabel Montanez, Jason Betzner, George Grover, and Mike Pope) and all those researchers from elsewhere in the Appalachians who provided so much. We thank Lawrie Hardie and Ken Walker for stimulating discussions on the rocks in the field. Much of the funding for the projects was provided by the National Science Foundation and Petroleum Research Fund. We thank Ellen Mathena for editorial work.


The southern Appalachian part of the Cambrian–Ordovician passive margin succession of the great American carbonate bank extends from the Lower Cambrian to the lower Middle Ordovician, is as much as 3.5 km (2.2 mi) thick, and has long-term subsidence rates exceeding 5 cm (2 in.)/k.y. Subsiding depocenters separated by arches controlled sediment thickness. The succession consists of five supersequences, each of which contains several third-order sequences, and numerous meter-scale parasequences. Siliciclastic-prone supersequence 1 (Lower Cambrian Chilhowee Group fluvial rift clastics grading up into shelf siliciclastics) underlies the passive margin carbonates. Supersequence 2 consists of the Lower Cambrian Shady Dolomite–Rome-Waynesboro Formations. This is a shallowing-upward ramp succession of thinly bedded to nodular lime mudstones up into carbonate mud-mound facies, overlain by lowstand quartzose carbonates, and then a rimmed shelf succession capped by highly cyclic regressive carbonates and red beds (Rome-Waynesboro Formations). Foreslope facies include megabreccias, grainstone, and thin-bedded carbonate turbidites and deep-water rhythmites. Supersequence 3 rests on a major unconformity and consists of a Middle Cambrian differentiated rimmed shelf carbonate with highly cyclic facies (Elbrook Formation) extending in from the rim and passing via an oolitic ramp into a large structurally controlled intrashelf basin (Conasauga Shale). Filling of the intrashelf basin caused widespread deposition of thin quartz sandstones at the base of supersequence 4, overlain by widespread cyclic carbonates (Upper Cambrian lower Knox Group Copper Ridge Dolomite in the south; Conococheague Formation in the north). Supersequence 5 (Lower Ordovician upper Knox in the south; Lower to Middle Ordovician Beekmantown Group in the north) has a basal quartz sandstone-prone unit, overlain by cyclic ramp carbonates, that grade downdip into thrombolite grainstone and then storm-deposited deep-ramp carbonates. Passive margin deposition was terminated by arc-continent collision when the shelf was uplifted over a peripheral bulge while global sea levels were falling, resulting in the major 0- to 10-m.y. Knox–Beekmantown unconformity. The supersequences and sequences appear to relate to regionally traceable eustatic sea level cycles on which were superimposed high-frequency Milankovitch sea level cycles that formed the parasequences under global greenhouse conditions.

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