Quantitative interpretation of an evolving ancient river system



Multistorey sandstone bodies described from the Upper Devonian-Lower Carboniferous of Kerry Head (Ireland) are interpreted as deposits of aggrading, perennial, river channels migrating laterally across alluvial plains. Point bars displayed surface features such as scroll bars, chute channels and chute bars. Relatively uncommon channel fills are both coarse- and fine-grained.

Quantitative interpretation of the sandstone bodies was accomplished by comparison with a physical model that predicts the sedimentology of single point bar deposits developed in channels of prescribed geometry and hydraulics. This analysis reveals that the separate storeys (point bars) in each sandstone body were deposited in a single channel belt in which channel geometry and hydraulics varied little with time (order of 103 yr) and space (order of 103 m). Two southerly flowing rivers of markedly different size were responsible for all sandstone bodies: bankfull widths, depths and mean velocities of both rivers varied little with time (order of 105 yr), implying a stable climatic setting. Channel sinuosities were usually 1.15–1.2 throughout the succession. Both rivers decreased in mean channel slope as time progressed, in association with a rising base-level and a shoreline encroaching from the south.

Using Bridge & Leeder's (1979) alluvial stratigraphy model, the nature and distribution of channel sandstone bodies relative to overbank deposits in the succession can be explained by an average (compacted) floodplain deposition rate of about 0.005 m yr−1, if avulsion occurred with a frequency of about once every 103 yr. Local variation in the relative amount of channel sandstone in the succession is probably due to local tectonic control of deposition.