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Lake level controls the recurrence of giant stromatolite facies

Ingalls, Miquela and Fetrow, Anne C. and Snell, Kathryn E. and Frantz, Carie M. and Trower, Elizabeth J. (2022) Lake level controls the recurrence of giant stromatolite facies. Sedimentology, 69 (4). pp. 1649-1674. ISSN 0037-0746. doi:10.1111/sed.12967.

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Stromatolites have often served as a diagnostic carbonate facies for deep-time palaeoclimatic and geobiological studies because they may form under favourable environmental conditions for microbially mediated carbonate production. ‘Giant’ (<5 m) stromatolites occur in the Laney Member of the Eocene Green River Formation in the Vermillion Creek section of the Sand Wash Basin (north-west Colorado, USA). Giant stromatolite growth was hypothesized to have been promoted by both availability of large substrates as nucleation sites and physicochemical factors, including increased calcium carbonate mineral saturation states due to the generally warmer Eocene climate and a dynamic period in Lake Gosiute’s hydrological balance. Depositional horizons of giant stromatolites were observed at two distinct stratigraphic levels, which demonstrated that the formation of the giant morphotype was not a unique occurrence, and provided an opportunity to examine both onset and cessation of stromatolite development. Coincident increases in carbonate clumped isotope-derived temperatures, the carbon and oxygen isotopic compositions of lake water (δ¹⁸O_w), carbonate mineral saturation states (Ω) estimated by ooid size, and salinity estimated by ostracod assemblages demonstrated that formation of giant stromatolites was facilitated by lake level drawdown. Decreased lake levels: (i) promoted carbonate precipitation; and (ii) positioned benthic microbial communities within the photic zone. Field and petrographic analyses revealed that the giants preserved micritic laminations, ‘trapped and bound’ grains, and aragonite fans, interpreted as reflecting contributions from both microbially mediated and abiotic carbonate mineral precipitation. Field and microscopic sedimentological and stable isotope data indicated that giant stromatolite growth ceased as a result of subaerial exposure of mounds during lake level lows. Although microbial mediation of carbonate chemistry was seemingly important for initiation of stromatolite growth, this work demonstrated that stromatolite macromorphology was dominantly controlled by availability of large substrates, lake level and resultant solute chemistry, i.e. increased Ω.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Ingalls, Miquela0000-0002-7451-2944
Fetrow, Anne C.0000-0001-5996-1373
Snell, Kathryn E.0000-0001-5373-7143
Frantz, Carie M.0000-0003-2544-9245
Trower, Elizabeth J.0000-0001-9898-5589
Additional Information:© 2021 International Association of Sedimentologists. Issue Online: 20 May 2022; Version of Record online: 31 January 2022; Accepted manuscript online: 24 December 2021; Manuscript accepted: 21 December 2021; Manuscript revised: 30 November 2021; Manuscript received: 17 September 2021. Field work and sampling was conducted on the current and ancestral homelands of the Eastern Shoshone and Ute nations. Laboratory work conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder was done on the unceded ancestral lands of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. Laboratory analyses done at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) were conducted on the unceded lands of the Gabrielino-Tongva people. Samples were collected under a Bureau of Land Management Paleontological Resources Use Permit for Colorado COC 078834. EJT thanks D. Postal and A. Sarmiento for mapping stromatolite mound distribution for a class project. The authors thank Nami Kitchen and Brett Davidheiser-Kroll for analytical support. Funding for this work was provided by the California Institute of Technology Barr Postdoctoral Fellowship to MI and the University of Colorado to EJT and KES. Data Availability Statement: All samples were registered with International Geo Sample Numbers, which are listed in a table published on the Open Science Framework at ( All raw and processed stable isotope data and data processing R Markdown files, as well as sedimentological data and additional petrographic images have been published in the OSF associated with this project, listed above. Github release of MATLAB code for ooid diameter-based omega calculations is archived on Zenodo (
Funding AgencyGrant Number
University of ColoradoUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Carbonate; clumped isotopes; Green River Formation; stromatolite
Issue or Number:4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220131-945175300
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Official Citation:Ingalls, M., Fetrow, A.C., Snell, K.E., Frantz, C.M. and Trower, E.J. (2022), Lake level controls the recurrence of giant stromatolite facies. Sedimentology, 69: 1649-1674.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:113164
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:01 Feb 2022 18:08
Last Modified:01 Jun 2022 17:30

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