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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Paleoenvironmental Controls on the Preservation of Tetrapod Swim Tracks From the Lower to Middle Triassic Moenkopi Formation, Utah

  • Author(s): Thomson, Tracy
  • Advisor(s): Droser, Mary L
  • et al.

Tetrapod swim tracks attributed to reptiles occur abundantly throughout Lower to Middle Triassic deposits across the western United States. In central and southern Utah these swim track localities are stratigraphically restricted to the upper portion of the Torrey Member of the Moenkopi Formation. Here they show detailed features such as longitudinal striae and disc-shaped claw impressions that must have required specific substrate conditions in order to be produced and preserved. A suite of sedimentologic and ichnologic observations at several swim track localities demonstrates the widespread development and persistence of subaqueous firmground substrates buried by crevasse splay deposits in the interdistributary areas of a large lower delta plain. The heterolithic stratigraphy is typical of interdistributary bays and channels and generally consists of decimeter-scale fining-upward cycles of mud- and siltstone beds below the track-bearing horizons and thicker, massive or cross-bedded sandstones above. Siltstone and sandstone beds show low angle accretion sets, vary laterally in thickness, and commonly pinch out so that they cannot be correlated regionally. Common sedimentary structures indicate predominately quiet subaqueous conditions with periodic higher energy events. These include trough cross stratification, climbing ripples, rip-up clasts, and soft sediment deformation. Track surfaces often exhibit localized dewatering structures and load casts in addition to flute casts and current crescents indicating unidirectional current flow. Mudcracks are rare. The low diversity invertebrate ichnoassemblage is comprised of locally high densities of relatively diminutive traces and reflects stressed brackish water faunas. These characteristics are almost certainly augmented by delayed biotic recovery following the end-Permian mass extinction and resulted in extremely low degrees of bioturbation. This lack of biogenic mixing promoted semi-consolidation of dewatered mud substrates resulting in the widespread production and persistence of firmgrounds capable of recording and maintaining detailed swim tracks. The subsequent burial of these firmground surfaces under coarser-grained crevasse splay deposits resulted in sharp heterolithic contacts further facilitating the preservation of detailed track features.

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