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Chemical and Pb isotope composition of phenocrysts from bentonites constrains the chronostratigraphy around the Cretaceous‐Paleogene boundary in the Hell Creek region, Montana


An excellent record of environmental and paleobiological change around the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary is preserved in the Hell Creek and Fort Union Formations in the western Williston Basin of northeastern Montana. These records are present in fluvial deposits whose lateral discontinuity hampers long-distance correlation. Geochronology has been focused on bentonite beds that are often present in lignites. To better identify unique bentonites for correlation across the region, the chemical and Pb isotopic composition of feldspar and titanite has been measured on 46 samples. Many of these samples have been dated by 40Ar/39Ar. The combination of chemical and isotopic compositions of phenocrysts has enabled the identification of several unique bentonite beds. In particular, three horizons located at and above the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary can now be traced - based on their unique compositions - across the region, clarifying previously ambiguous stratigraphic relationships. Other bentonites show unusual features, such as Pb isotope variations consistent with magma mixing or assimilation, that will make them easy to recognize in future studies. This technique is limited in some cases by more than one bentonite having compositions that cannot be distinguished, or bentonites with abundant xenocrysts. The Pb isotopes are consistent with a derivation from the Bitterroot Batholith, whose age range overlaps that of the tephra. These data provide an improved stratigraphic framework for the Hell Creek region and provide a basis for more focused tephrostratigraphic work, and more generally demonstrate that the combination of mineral chemistry and Pb isotope compositions is an effective technique for tephra correlation. Key Points: Chemical and Pb isotopic compositions of feldspars identify KPB tephra Multiple unique tephra can be traced across the basin The results provide a better stratigraphic framework around the terrestrial KPB

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