The origin and distribution of late Maastrichtian–early Palaeocene clay mineral associations were investigated in the Tremp-Graus basin (South Pyrenees, Spain) to assess palaeoclimate changes during that period. The studied succession is made up of expanded continental and transitional terrigeneous and carbonate deposits accumulated in a coastal plain setting. X-ray diffraction, SEM-EDX and TEM-AEM analysis reveal that the main clay components are illite and smectite, but kaolinite, chlorite and illite-smectite mixed layers are present, although irregularly distributed, all of them showing a platy morphology typical of a detrital origin. Persistence of the chemical features of the Al-dioctahedral smectites throughout the whole succession demonstrates the persistence of the same source area during the interval studied. Palygorskite occurs in the late Danian and Selandian, within carbonate tidal flats as sabkha-like facies. In SEM images, the palygorskite displays straight fibre morphologies, both coating and branched curling out, a clear proof of authigenic origin.
Physical or chemical weathering (PhW/ChW) determined as illite + chlorite/smectite + kaolinite ratio, smectite/kaolinite ratio and palygorskite distribution have been used as clay proxies for palaeoclimate reconstructions. Such data suggest a shift from temperate subhumid (perennial) conditions in late Maastrichtian times to a warm seasonal climate during early Palaeocene times. This trend, however, was dramatically altered during the late Danian–Selandian interval, when prevailing warm and semi-arid to arid climatic conditions caused intense evaporation and the development of an alkaline environment in which the palygorskite authigenesis took place.
The proposed climatic trend partly concurs with that established for earliest Danian time by Domingo et al. (2007), also in the Tremp-Graus basin, from isotopic and geochemical proxies, as well as with the reconstruction of Cojan & Moreau (2006), in which a semiarid Danian phase for the near continental basin of Aix-en-Provence is postulated. However, it is at odds with the notion of a humid Danian state in the Pyrenees, as inferred by Gawenda et al. (1999) from clay mineral proxies of deep marine successions.