Sedimentology of the ∼3.3 Ga upper Mendon Formation, Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa
Trower et al
The Mendon Formation is the uppermost unit of the 3.5–3.26 Ga Onverwacht Group in the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa. It consists of a cyclic stack of komatiitic volcanic units separated by thin cherty sedimentary layers. In most areas, the uppermost Mendon Formation is a sedimentary interval characterized by black chert, banded black-and-white chert, and banded ferruginous chert, although the detailed patterns of lithofacies in different sections are more complex. Previously reported zircon U/Pb ages suggest that Mendon deposition could represent more than 70 Myr of time between ∼3334 Ma and ∼3260 Ma.
This study presents sedimentological and petrographic observations of the upper Mendon Formation from across the central part of the Barberton Greenstone Belt in order to investigate sediment sources, depositional processes, and environments of sedimentation. The dominant mode of sedimentation was quiet settling of carbonaceous grains and, in the deepest sections below storm wave base, fine ferruginous material, resulting in finely laminated black and grey chert. In situ carbonaceous laminations are rare, suggesting that benthic microbial mat growth had little direct influence on deposition. The hemipelagic background deposition was punctuated by occasional inputs of fine pyroclastic debris, formation and deposition of silica granules, and reworking by infrequent storm events. Storm deposits are represented by coarse-grained, poorly-sorted intraclast breccias, some of which include distinctive intraclasts sampling lithofacies that are not observed in situ. Despite considerable lateral variability, correlative temporal trends are resolvable in many Mendon sections: there is an upward-deepening of the overall depositional setting recorded in the oldest upper Mendon sections, consistent with the previous interpretation that Mendon time was characterized by rifting (Lowe, 1994a, 1999a). Younger Mendon cycles include thick, relatively ferruginous basal sections, interpreted to reflect the deepest water deposition. These sections are capped by black chert and silicified ashes with more evidence of disturbance and reworking by storms, reflecting gradual shoaling. This sedimentological analysis is broadly consistent with previous geochemical and tectonic analyses and provides a better picture of depositional patterns during uppermost Onverwacht time, before the distinct change in tectonic regime marked by impact spherule layer S2 and the onset of Fig Tree Group orogenesis and related siliciclastic deposition.