Evolution of an ancient coastal plain: palaeosols, interfluves and alluvial architecture in a sequence stratigraphic framework, Cenomanian Dunvegan Formation, NE British Columbia, Canada



To date, discussion of changes in alluvial style and in the character of palaeosols in relation to changes in accommodation and sediment supply on floodplains has primarily been from a conceptual standpoint: few case studies are available against which to test ideas. One hundred and thirty metres of non-marine strata of the Dunvegan Formation were examined in 14 closely spaced sections in the canyon of the Kiskatinaw River, NE British Columbia, Canada. This site was located about 120 km inland from the transgressive limit of the contemporary marine shoreline and represents almost exclusively freshwater environments. Fluvial channels in the Kiskatinaw River section are of two types. Small, single-storey, very fine- to fine-grained sandstone ribbons with W/T ratios <30, encased in fine-grained floodplain sediments are interpreted as anastomosed channels. Fine- to medium-grained, laterally accreted point-bar deposits forming multistorey sand bodies with individual W/T ratios >30 are interpreted as the deposits of meandering rivers filling incised valleys. Interchannel facies include the deposits of crevasse channels and splays, lakes, floodplains and palaeosols. Floodplain palaeosols consist of laterally heterogeneous, simple palaeosol profiles and pedocomplexes similar to modern Entisols, Inceptisols and hydromorphic soils. Interfluve, sequence-bounding palaeosols adjacent to incised valleys are laterally continuous, up to 3 m thick and can be reliably identified using a combination of (1) stratigraphic position; (2) field observations, such as thickness, structure, colour, degree of rooting; and (3) micromorphological features, such as evidence of bioturbation, clay coatings, ferruginous features and sphaerosiderite. Interfluve palaeosols are similar to modern Alfisols and Ultisols. Correlation of the local stratigraphic succession with the regional sequence stratigraphic framework, based on 2340 well logs and 60 outcrop sections, shows that the vertical changes in coastal plain character (more coals and lakes vs. more pedogenesis) can be related to relatively high-frequency base level cycles (eustatic?) that are expressed as transgressive–regressive marine cycles in downdip areas. Regional isopach maps show that these cycles were progressively overprinted and modified by an increasing rate of tectonic subsidence in the north and west. The character of palaeosols developed on aggrading floodplains primarily reflects local sediment supply and drainage. In contrast, well-developed interfluve palaeosols record pedogenesis during periods of reduced or negative accommodation (base level fall). Vertical changes in floodplain palaeoenvironments and palaeosol types reflect changes in accommodation rate. The detailed micromorphological analysis of interfluve palaeosols represents a powerful application of an under-used technique for the recognition of key surfaces in the geological record. This has broad implications for non-marine sequence stratigraphy.