Paleoenvironmental conditions and strontium isotope stratigraphy in the Paleogene Gafsa Basin (Tunisia) deduced from geochemical analyses of phosphatic fossils

Kocsis, László ; Ounis, Anouar ; Chaabani, Fredj ; Salah, Neili

In: International Journal of Earth Sciences, 2013, vol. 102, no. 4, p. 1111-1129

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    Fossil shark teeth and coprolites from three major phosphorite occurrences in the Gafsa Basin (southwestern Tunisia) were investigated for their geochemical compositions to improve local stratigraphy and to better assess paleoenvironmental conditions. 87Sr/86Sr isotope ratios of shark teeth from the Early Maastrichtian El Haria Formation and from the Early Eocene Métlaoui s.s. Formation yielded Sr isotope ages of 68±1 and 47.9±1.3Ma, respectively, which accord with the expected stratigraphic positions of these sediments. Conversely, shark teeth from the Paleocene-Eocene Chouabine Formation have large variation in Sr isotope ratios even within individual layers. After statistical treatment and then elimination of certain outlier samples, three age-models are proposed and discussed. The most reasonable solution includes three subsequent Sr ages of 61.8±2.2Ma, 57.2±1.8 and 54.6±1.6 for layer IX, layers VIII-V and layers IV-0, respectively. Three scenarios are discussed for explanation of the presence of the outliers: (1) diagenesis, (2) re-working and (3) locally controlled seawater Sr isotope ratio. The most plausible account for the higher 87Sr/86Sr ratios relative to the global ocean in some fossils is enhanced intrabasinal re-working due to low sea level. Conversely, the sample with lower 87Sr/86Sr than the global seawater may link to diagenesis or to seawater influenced by weathering of Late Cretaceous marine carbonates, which latter is supported by model calculation as well. The εNd values of these fossils are very similar to those reported for Paleogene and Late Cretaceous Tethyan seawater and are compatible with the above interpretations. The relatively low oxygen isotope values in shark teeth from the topmost phosphate bed of the Chouabine Formation, together with the Sr isotope results, point toward recovering better connections with the open sea. These δ18O data reflect elevated ambient temperature, which may link to the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum