A model for the evolution of brines in salt from the lower Salado Formation, southeastern New Mexico
Fluid inclusions were collected from a bedded salt horizon in the lower Permian Salado Formation in the Delaware Basin, southeastern New Mexico. The sampling horizon, at a depth of approximately 645 meters, consists primarily of recrystallized halite, with thin layers of anhydrite. Other trace minerals, dispersed throughout the salt, include quartz, polyhalite, gypsum, K-feldspar, magnesite, and clays. Large fluid inclusions (up to several mm on an edge) are common in the halite; in addition, bands of microscopic (<10 μm) fluid inclusions are present as primary ("chevron") structures in fragments of unrecrystallized salt. We sampled 109 large inclusions by individual extraction of the fluids, which were analyzed for Ca, Mg, K, Na, Cl, Br, and SO 4. The chemistry of the inclusion fluids and the associated mineralogy suggest that these brines represent Permian seawater that has undergone evaporation and subsequent modification by diagenetic reactions, dominated by the alteration of calcium sulfate to polyhalite and magnesite formation. The range of fluid inclusion compositions suggests a significant departure from a simple seawater evaporation model. Other brines from the same horizon in the Salado Formation were sampled and analyzed for the same elements as the fluid inclusions, and differed significantly from them primarily by the depletion of Mg relative to K. The association of these brines with argillaceous and/or anhydritic halite containing a suite of authigenic minerals (quartz, magnesite, and Mg-rich clays) suggests that these are intergranular brines with compositions determined over a much longer time scale than that required by the fluid inclusions. The principal reactions affecting intergranular brine chemistry are dehydration of gypsum, dewatering of detrital clays, and uptake of Mg during clay diagenesis. Overall, the observed variation in brine compositions implies that, if large-scale hydrologie circulation is occurring in the Salado halite, the time scale is limited by the rate required for low-temperature silicate diagenesis.