Avalonian Arc-to-Platform Transition in Southeastern New England: U-Pb Geochronology and Stratigraphy of Ediacaran Cambridge “Argillite,” Boston Basin, Massachusetts, USA

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High-precision CA-TIMS 206Pb/238U zircon dates clarify the age and tectonic significance of the Cambridge Formation which is poorly exposed in the Boston Basin, eastern Massachusetts, but transected by ∼50 km of tunnels beneath the mainland and Boston Harbor. The youngest detrital zircon in a sample from the northern Braintree Weymouth Tunnel establishes a maximum depositional age of 584.09 ± 1.98 Ma, consistent with sources in sills of that age in underlying Roxbury Conglomerate. A 551.22 ± 0.20 Ma ash bed from the Mystic Quarry in Somerville, Massachusetts lies near the top of an approximately 5350 m thick, dominantly argillaceous section measured in subsurface cross sections.

These were constructed from attitudes reported in pre-1960 tunnels and from mapping logs obtained from tunnels completed decades later during the federally ordered clean-up of Boston Harbor. A 488.58 ± 0.16 Ma aplite sill intruding argillite ∼800 m above the ash bed sets the minimum depositional age on the north side of the Basin. A tighter constraint comes from trilobite-bearing strata of the lower Cambrian Weymouth Formation located south of Boston that overlies the Cambridge Formation without obvious break in the Braintree Weymouth Tunnel. If Cambridge deposition was continuous after 584 Ma, the depositional interval would exceed 40 million years. An estimated ∼20 Ma depositional hiatus seems more likely because the base of the Cambridge Formation appears to define a regional unconformity above which argillite rests variously on magmatic arc-related units of both the 595 to 584 Ma Roxbury Conglomerate and the 597 to 593 Ma Lynn-Mattapan Volcanic Complex.

Cambridge deposition set in once arc activity in more northerly “West” Avalonian terranes extending through Atlantic Canada to the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland had given way to wrench faulting and bimodal magmatism. This regime is manifested structurally in Boston-area tunnels by later-reactivated normal faults in which hanging wall blocks of Cambridge argillite were originally downthrown relative to older footwall units. Pyroclastic volcanic textures and thin basaltic flows with soft sediment contacts are present in argillite of the City Tunnel Extension, and whole rock major element and REE compositions reveal mixed terrigenous and volcanic components deposited under marine conditions throughout the Basin. Proposed sources for the latter are voluminous eruptions recorded in the 560 to 550 Ma Coldbrook Group in New Brunswick's Caledonia terrane.