Climate-driven generation of a fluvial sheet sand body at the Paleocene–Eocene boundary in north-west Wyoming (USA)


  • B. Z. Foreman

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA
    • Correspondence: Brady Z. Foreman, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55414, USA. E-mail:

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An unusually thick and laterally persistent fluvial sand body crops out at the Paleocene–Eocene boundary within the northern part of the Bighorn Basin in northwest Wyoming, USA. The generation of this ‘Boundary Sandstone’ was previously ascribed to a period of reduced subsidence; however, a new carbon isotope record presented herein shows it to be intimately correlated to the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), an extreme global warming event ca. 56 Ma. This study evaluates the impacts of the PETM on fluvial deposition in the basin by integrating sedimentological data with geochemical, palaeoichnological, and palaeobotanical proxy records. Compared to pre- and post-PETM fluvial sand bodies, the Boundary Sandstone is more highly amalgamated, both vertically and laterally, but shows no changes in lithofacies associations, palaeodispersal directions, palaeoflow depths, or palaeochannel widths. At its thickest, the Boundary Sandstone resides entirely within the main body of the PETM, an ca. 113 kyr time interval when global pCO2 levels and temperatures were at their highest, and local mean annual rainfall low, floodplains well drained and vegetation comparatively sparse. The totality of data sets imply that the Boundary Sandstone is related to the preferential removal of fine-grained floodplain deposits by either: (i) rapid readjustments in river gradients related to documented short-term precipitation oscillations or (ii) reductions in the cohesiveness of overbank sediments related to decreased rooting density and water table fluctuations. Hence, short-term climate perturbations may manifest within large-scale depositional patterns in ways ostensibly like tectonics.