The cratonic margins and basins of North America contain evidence of distinct changes in relative sea level, one of the most intriguing of which occurred in middle Paleozoic time. The change in relative sea level began in Frasnian time (Late Devonian) and continued through Visean time (Middle Mississippian) in the Cordilleran miogeocline, in the Southern Oklahoma Aulacogen, in the Appalachian miogeocline and in the Michigan, Illinois, and Williston basins. The synchroneity and wide geographic distribution of this event are striking and would seem to argue for an eustatic mechanism. An estimate of the middle Paleozoic sea level rise relative to the stable craton in Iowa suggests that while a large sea level rise occurred, it is smaller than the magnitude of subsidence in the cratonic basins and margins. Flexural foreland basin models do not appear to account for the all of the events in the cratonic margins, and thermal subsidence mechanisms do not seem appropriate for the subsidence in the cratonic basins. The middle Paleozoic stratigraphic record from the North American craton and its margins, therefore, poses a basic problem of identifying a mechanism for producing a large-amplitude rise in sea level relative to the stable craton at the same time as a synchronous onset of tectonic subsidence in widespread basinal and marginal settings of diverse tectonic origin. One plausible mechanism for the tectonic subsidence in the basins and margins is a pulse of intraplate compressive stress. The origin of the large sea level rise relative to the stable craton could reflect an unusually large eustatic sea level change, but we cannot eliminate the possibility of a small component of subsidence or change in dynamic topography of the North American craton. The synchroneity of the sea level rise relative to the craton with the subsidence of basins and margins may be fortuitous, but it is also predicted by recent mantle convection models for the early stages of accretion of supercontinents.
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