Tonian-Cryogenian boundary sections of Argyll, Scotland

Ian Fairchild, Anthony Spencer, Dilshad Ali, Ross Anderson, Roger Anderton, Ian Boomer, Dayton Dove, Jonathon Evans, Michael Hambrey, John Howe, Yusuke Sawaki, Graham Shields-Zou, Alistair Skelton, Maurice Tucker, Zhengrong Wang, Ying Shields-Zou

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The Tonian-Cryogenian System boundary is to be defined at a GSSP (Global Boundary Stratigraphic Section and Point) beneath the first evidence of widespread glaciation. A candidate lies within the Dalradian Supergroup of Scotland and Ireland, which is least deformed and metamorphosed in Argyll, western Scotland. We present new stratigraphic profiles and interpretations from the Isle of Islay and the Garvellach Islands, update the chemostratigraphy of the Appin Group Tonian carbonates underlying the thick (ca. 1 km) glacigenic Port Askaig Formation (PAF) and demonstrate an environmental transition at the contact. The Appin Group forms a regionally extensive, >4 km-thick, succession of limestones, shales and sandstones deposited on a marine shelf. On Islay, the upper part of the lithostratigraphy has been clarified by correlating two sections containing distinctive stratigraphic levels including molar tooth structure, oolite, stromatolitic dolomite and intraclastic microbial mounds. Significant overstep at the unconformity at the base of the overlying PAF is demonstrated. Carbonate facies show a gradual decline in 13C from +5 to +2 ‰ upwards. In NE Garbh Eileach (Garvellach Islands), a continuously exposed section of Appin Group carbonates, 70 m thick, here designated the Garbh Eileach Formation (GEF), lies conformably beneath the PAF. Interstratified limestone and dolomicrosparite with negative 13C (a feature named the Garvellach anomaly, replacing the term Islay anomaly) are overlain by dolomite in which the isotope signature becomes weakly positive upwards. Shallow subtidal conditions become peritidal upwards, with evidence of wave and storm activity. Gypsum pseudomorphs and subaerial exposure surfaces are common near the top of the GEF. The basal diamictite (D1) of the PAF is rich in carbonate clasts similar to slightly deeper-water parts of the underlying succession. D1 is typically several metres thick with interstratified sandstone and conglomerate, but dies out laterally. Scattered siliciclastic coarse sandstone to pebble conglomerate with dropstones associated with soft-sediment deformation is interbedded with carbonate below and above D1. Dolomite beds with derived intraclasts and gypsum pseudomorphs are found above D1 (or equivalent position, where D1 is absent). Published and new Sr isotope studies, including successive leach data, demonstrate primary Tonian 87Sr/86Sr values of 0.7066-0.7069 on Islay, falling to 0.7064-0.7066 in the younger GEF limestones on the Garvellachs, with 1700-2700 ppm Sr. Other typically Tonian characteristics of the carbonates are the Sr-rich nature of limestones, molar tooth structure, and dolomitized peritidal facies with evidence of aridity. Seabed surveys revealing uniformly-dipping strata and shallow borehole core material illustrate the potential for extending the Tonian record offshore of the Garvellachs. A candidate Tonian-Cryogenian GSSP is proposed on Garbh Eileach within the smooth 13C profile at the cross-over to positive 13C signatures, 4 m below the first occurrence of ice-rafted sediment and 9 m below the first diamictite. Although lacking radiometric constraints or stratigraphically significant biotas or biomarkers, the Scottish succession has a thick and relatively complete sedimentary record of glaciation, coherent carbon and strontium chemostratigraphy, lateral continuity of outcrops and 100% exposure at the proposed boundary interval.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-64
Number of pages28
JournalPrecambrian Research
Early online date20 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Neoproterozoic
  • Limestone
  • Glaciation
  • Carbon isotopes
  • Strontium isotopes


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