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Sphaerosiderites as sensitive recorders of non-marine depositional and diagenetic history: Insights from the Lower Cretaceous Wealden Supergroup

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pWaterlogged, reducing soils in modern and ancient wetlands feature distinctive syndepositional to early diagenetic spherical iron carbonate concretions, known as sphaerosiderites. Sphaerosiderites are thought to record pore water elemental chemistry and local palaeoenvironmental conditions, and are widely used in palaeohydrological reconstructions throughout the Phanerozoic. The Lower Cretaceous non‐marine Wealden Supergroup of Southern England, deposited in fluvio‐lacustrine settings, contains abundant well‐preserved sphaerosiderites offering an ideal archive for unravelling the geochemistry of ancient non‐marine environments. Sphaerosiderites were characterised via multiple microanalytical techniques (SEM‐EDS, EPMA, XRD, SIMS), and show morphological and compositional heterogeneity (e.g. concentric zones of variably enriched Mn, Ca or Mg, elemental differences between cores and rims) in well‐preserved sphaerosiderites from the Ashdown and Tunbridge Wells Sand formations. The preservation of primary fabrics, lack of post‐burial cements or extensive alteration suggests these sphaerosiderites record primary palaeoenvironmental conditions. By contrast, in the Wadhurst Clay Formation, sphaerosiderites are recrystallised, potentially reflecting wide scale palaeoenvironmental changes (e.g. marine incursions). New experimental constraints on elemental uptake during siderite growth suggests that rather than reflecting pore water elemental chemistry, the elemental heterogeneity in the Wealden sphaerosiderites reflects complex parameters; variations in pH, cation concentrations, DIC, growth rate and siderite saturation state in groundwaters. At a larger scale, morphological and compositional differences between sphaerosiderites from distinct palaeosol horizons record spatial and temporal variability in local hydrogeochemistry. This suggests that the Weald Basin wetlands of the Lower Cretaceous featured a dynamic and periodically fluctuating groundwater table, where sphaerosiderites growing close to the soil surface responded rapidly to variability in physiochemical conditions, consistent with wet and warm conditions suggested by sedimentological evidence and climate model simulations. Similar morphological and compositional variability noted in other Phanerozoic sphaerosiderites suggests analogous processes operated in ancient wetlands, and that sphaerosiderites could provide a crucial tool to understand wetland dynamics in deep time.</jats:p>



Cretaceous, siderite, sphaerosiderites, Wealden

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Depositional Record

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Natural Environment Research Council (NE/L002612/1)