Significance of geochemical signatures on provenance in intracratonic rift basins: Examples from the Iberian plate

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Following the Variscan orogeny, the Iberian plate was affected by an extensional tectonic regime from Late Permian to Late Cretaceous time. In the central part of the plate, NW-SE–trending rift basins were created. Two rifting cycles can be identified during the extensional stage: (1) a Late Permian to Hettangian cycle, and (2) a latest Jurassic to Early Cretaceous cycle. During these cycles, thick clastic continental sequences were deposited in grabens and half grabens. In both cycles, sandstone petrofacies from periods of high tectonic activity reveal a main plutoniclastic (quartzofeldspathic) character due to the erosion of coarse-grained crystalline rocks from the Hesperian Massif, during Buntsandstein (mean Qm72F25Lt3) sedimentation and during Barremian–early Albian times (mean Qm81F18Lt1). Geochemical data show that weathering was more intense during the second rifting phase (mean chemical index of alteration [CIA]: 80) due to more severe climate conditions (humid) than during the first rifting phase (mean CIA: 68) (arid climate). Ratios between major and trace elements agree with a main provenance from passive-margins settings in terms of the felsic nature of the crust. However, anomalies in trace elements have been detected in some Lower Cretaceous samples, suggesting additional basic supplies from the north area of the basin. These anomalies consist of (1) low contents in Hf, Th, and U; (2) high contents in Sc, Co, and Zr; and (3) anomalous ratios in Th/Y, La/Tb, Ta/Y, and Ni/V. Basic supplies could be related to the alkaline volcanism during Norian-Hettangian and Aalenian-Bajocian times. Geochemical composition of rift deposits has been shown to be a useful and complementary tool to petrographic deduction in provenance, especially in intensely weathered sediments. However, diagenetic processes and hydrothermalism may affect the original detrital deposits, producing changes in geochemical composition that mislead provenance and weathering deductions.