Controls and predictability of carbonate facies architecture in a Lower Jurassic three-dimensional barrier-shoal complex (Djebel Bou Dahar, High Atlas, Morocco)

K. Verwer, G.P. Della Porta, O. Merino-Tome, J.A.M. Kenter

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Spatial information on lithofacies from outcrops is paramount for understanding the internal dynamics, external controls and degree of predictability of the facies architecture of shallow-water carbonate-platform tops. To quantify the spatial distribution and vertical stacking of lithofacies within an outer-platform shoal-barrier complex, integrated facies analysis and digital field technologies have been applied to a high-relief carbonate platform exposed in the Djebel Bou Dahar (Lower Jurassic, High Atlas, Morocco). The outer platform is characterized by subtidal, cross-bedded, coarse grainstone to rudstone grading into supratidal, pisoidal packstone-rudstone with tepees that together formed a 350 to 420 m wide shoal-barrier belt parallel to the margin. This belt acted as a topographic high separating a restricted lagoon from the subtidal, open marine region. Low-energy tidal flats developed on the protected flank of the barrier facing the lagoon. Lithofacies patterns were captured quantitatively from outcrop and integrated into a digital outcrop model. The outcrop model enabled rapid visualization of field data and efficient extraction of quantitative data such as widths of facies belts. In addition, the spatial heterogeneity was captured in multiple time slices, i.e. during different phases of cyclic base-level fluctuations. In general, the lateral continuity of lithofacies is highest when relative water depth increased during flooding of the platform top, establishing low-energy subtidal conditions across the whole platform, and when the accommodation space was filled with tidal flat facies. Heterogeneity increased during deposition of the relief-building bar facies that promoted spatial diversification of depositional environments during the initial phases of accommodation space creation. Cycles commonly are composed of a thin transgressive tidal flat unit, followed by coated-grain rudstone bar facies. Lateral to the bar facies, pisoidal-grainstone beach deposits accumulated. These bar and beach deposits were overlain by subtidal lagoonal facies or would grow through the maximum flooding and highstand. There the bars either graded into supratidal pisoidal facies with tepees (when accommodation space was filled) or were capped by subaerial exposure (due to a sea-level fall). Modified embedded Markov analysis was used to test the presence of common ordering in vertical lithofacies stacking in a stationary interval (constant depositional mode). Analysis of individual sections did not reveal any ordering, which may be related to the limited thickness of these sections. Composite sections, however, rejected the null hypothesis of randomness. The addition of stratigraphically significant information to the Markov analysis, such as exposure surfaces and lateral dimensions of facies bodies, strengthens the verdict of unambiguous preferential ordering. Through careful quantitative reconstruction of stratal geometry and facies relationships in fully integrated digital outcrop models, accurate depositional models could be established that enhanced the predictability of carbonate sediment accumulation. © 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 International Association of Sedimentologists.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1801-1831
    Number of pages31
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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