The Kimmeridge Clay Formation (KCF) is a laterally extensive, total-organic-carbon-rich succession deposited throughout northwest Europe during the Kimmeridgian–Tithonian (Late Jurassic). It has recently been postulated that an expanded Hadley cell, with an intensified but alternating hydrological cycle, heavily influenced sedimentation and total organic carbon (TOC) enrichment by promoting primary productivity and organic matter burial in the UK sectors of the Boreal Seaway. Consistent with such climate boundary conditions, petrographic observations, total organic carbon and carbonate contents, and major and trace element data presented here indicate that the KCF of the Cleveland Basin was deposited in the Laurasian Seaway under the influence of these conditions.
Depositional conditions alternated between three states that produced a distinct cyclicity in the lithological and geochemical records: lower-variability mudstone intervals (LVMIs) which comprise clay-rich mudstone and higher-variability mudstone intervals (HVMIs) which comprise TOC-rich sedimentation and carbonate-rich sedimentation. The lower-variability mudstone intervals dominate the studied interval but are punctuated by three ∼ 2–4 m thick intervals of alternating TOC-rich and carbonate-rich sedimentation (HVMIs). During the lower-variability mudstone intervals, conditions were quiescent with oxic to suboxic bottom water conditions. During the higher-variability mudstone intervals, highly dynamic conditions resulted in repeated switching of the redox system in a way similar to the modern deep basins of the Baltic Sea. During carbonate-rich sedimentation, oxic conditions prevailed, most likely due to elevated depositional energies at the seafloor by current–wave action. During TOC-rich sedimentation, intermittent anoxic–euxinic conditions led to an enrichment of redox-sensitive and sulfide-forming trace metals at the seafloor and a preservation of organic matter, and an active Mn–Fe particulate shuttle delivered redox-sensitive and sulfide-forming trace metals to the seafloor. In addition, based on TOC–S–Fe relationships, organic matter sulfurization appears to have increased organic material preservation in about half of the analysed samples throughout the core, while the remaining samples were either dominated by excess Fe input into the system or experienced pyrite oxidation and sulfur loss during oxygenation events. New Hg∕TOC data do not provide evidence of increased volcanism during this time, consistent with previous work. Set in the context of recent climate modelling, our study provides a comprehensive example of the dynamic climate-driven depositional and redox conditions that can control TOC and metal accumulations in a shallow epicontinental sea, and it is therefore key to understanding the formation of similar deposits throughout Earth's history.