Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Source

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology



Inclusive pages


Peer Reviewed



Skeletal concentrations in mudstones may represent local facies produced by storm winnowing in shallow water, or time-specific deposits related to intervals of diminished sediment supply. Upper Ordovician (Katian) of the Cincinnati region is a mixed siliciclastic-carbonate succession including meter-scale cycles containing a shelly limestone-dominated phase and a mudstone-dominated phase.

The “tempestite proximality model” asserts that shell-rich intervals originated by winnowing of mud from undifferentiated fair-weather deposits. Thus shell beds are construed as tempestites, while interbedded mudstones represent either fair-weather or bypassed mud. Meter-scale cycles are attributed to sea-level fluctuation or varying storm intensity.

Alternatively, the “episodic starvation model” argues, on the basis of petrographic, taphonomic, and stratigraphic evidence, that, despite widespread evidence for storms or other turbulence events (e.g. tsunamis), winnowing alone could not generate shell beds where none had previously existed. Instead, variations in sediment supply are construed as the principal cause of shelly-mudstone cycles. Shell-rich deposits accrue during periods of siliciclastic sediment starvation and relatively shell-free mud accumulates during periods of sediment influx.

Tempestite proximality and episodic starvation models lead to contrasting predictions about proximal-to-distal facies patterns. These are: (i) large versus small volumes of distally-deposited, bypassed mud; (ii) proximal grainstones and distal packstones versus distal grainstones and proximal packstones; and (iii) proximal versus distal amalgamation and condensation of shell beds.

In this paper, these predictions are tested by (i) comparing meter-scale cycles from different horizons and depositional environments through the lower Cincinnatian succession (Kope through McMillan Formations representing deep subtidal through intertidal environments), and (ii) correlating intervals and individual meter-scale cycles from the Fairview Formation of the Cincinnati Arch (shallow subtidal) north and west into the Maquoketa Shale (deep subtidal) in subsurface of Ohio and Indiana. Both approaches show patterns consistent with episodic starvation, not winnowing, including: (i) small differences in stratigraphic thickness indicate small volumes of bypassed mud; (ii) discrete distal deep-water grainstones that splay proximally into bundles of thinner shallow-water packstones alternating with shelly muds show that grainstones formed from a lack of, rather than removal of mud; and (iii) distal shell bed amalgamation and condensation (and corresponding proximal splaying) of shell beds shows a proximal source of mud.

Thus, winnowing by storms or other turbulence events did not generate shell beds or cycles from undifferentiated sediments despite abundant evidence for storm deposition. High-resolution correlations imply that the shell-bed and mud-bed hemicycles reflect simultaneous basin-wide changes in sedimentary style rather than contemporaneous facies belts that track sea-level. In this sense, shell-rich and mud-rich hemicycles are “non-Waltherian” facies.


Upper Ordovician Katian, tempestite, shell beds, event deposits, Taconic Orogeny, sediment starvation


Climate | Earth Sciences | Oceanography | Sedimentology | Stratigraphy