The stratigraphic utility of carbon-isotope values from terrestrial organic matter is explored for Miocene siliciclastic sediments of the shallow shelf, New Jersey margin, USA (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program [IODP] Expedition 313). These shallow marine strata, rich in terrestrial organic matter, provide a record of deposition equivalent to the Monterey event, a prolonged interval of time characterized by relatively positive carbon-isotope values recorded from foraminiferal carbonate in numerous oceanic settings. Coherent stratigraphic trends and short-term isotopic excursions are observed consistently in palynological preparation residues, concentrated woody phytoclasts, and individually picked woody phytoclasts obtained from the New Jersey sediments. A bulk organic matter curve shows somewhat different stratigraphic trends but, when corrected for mixing of marine-terrestrial components on the basis of measured C/N ratios, a high degree of conformity with the woody phytoclast record is observed. However, assuming that the correlations based on strontium-isotope values and biostratigraphy are correct, the carbon-isotope record from the New Jersey margin contrasts with that previously documented from oceanic settings (i.e., lack of positive excursion of carbon-isotope values in terrestrial organic matter through the Langhian Stage). Factors that may potentially bias local terrestrial carbon-isotope records include reworking from older deposits, degradation and diagenesis, as well as environmental factors affecting vegetation in the sediment source areas. These possible factors are assessed on the basis of pyrolysis data, scanning electron microscope observations, and comparison to palynological indices of environmental change. Some evidence is found for localized degradation and/or reworking of older woody phytoclasts, but where such processes have occurred they do not readily explain the observed carbon-isotope values. It is concluded that the overall carbon-isotope signature for the exchangeable carbon reservoir is distorted, to the extent that the Monterey event excursion is not easily identifiable. The most likely explanation is that phytoclast reworking has indeed occurred in clinoform toe-of-slope facies, but the reason for the resulting relatively heavy carbon-isotope values in the Burdigalian remains obscure.
- Received 3 August 2012.
- Revision received 17 August 2013.
- Accepted 6 August 2013.
- © Geological Society of America