Articles | Volume 3, issue 1
Research article
02 Feb 2012
Research article |  | 02 Feb 2012

Phanerozoic environments of black shale deposition and the Wilson Cycle

J. Trabucho-Alexandre, W. W. Hay, and P. L. de Boer

Abstract. The spatial and temporal distribution of black shales is related to the development of environments in which they accumulate and to a propitious combination of environmental variables. In recent years, much has been done to improve our understanding of the mechanisms behind the temporal distribution of black shales in the Phanerozoic and of the environmental variables that result in their deposition. However, the interpretation of ancient black shale depositional environments is dominated by an oversimplistic set of three depositional models that do not capture their complexity and dynamics. These three models, the restricted circulation, the (open) ocean oxygen minimum and the continental shelf models, are an oversimplification of the variety of black shale depositional environments that arise and coexist throughout the course of a basin's Wilson Cycle, i.e. the dynamic sequence of events and stages that characterise the evolution of an ocean basin, from the opening continental rift to the closing orogeny. We examine the spatial distribution of black shales in the context of the Wilson Cycle using examples from the Phanerozoic. It is shown that the geographical distribution of environments of black shale deposition and the position of black shales in the basin infill sequence strongly depend on basin evolution, which controls the development of sedimentary environments where black shales may be deposited. The nature of the black shales that are deposited, i.e. lithology and type of organic matter, also depends on basin evolution and palaeogeography. We propose that in studies of black shales more attention should be given to the sedimentary processes that have led to their formation and to the interpretation of their sedimentary environments.