Controls on synorogenic alluvial-fan architecture, Beartooth Conglomerate (Palaeocene), Wyoming and Montana



Late Palaeocene uplift of the Beartooth Range in northwestern Wyoming and southwestern Montana generated the Beartooth Conglomerate along the eastern and northeastern flanks of the range. Systematic unroofing sequences and intraformational unconformities, folds, and faults in the conglomerate attest to deposition during uplift. Along the eastern flank, at least three ancient alluvial-fan systems and a braidplain system can be distinguished on the bases of petrofacies and lithofacies. The two southern fans consist of 700+ m of sedimentary-clast conglomerate and subordinate sandstone, dominated by hyperconcentrated-flow and stream-flow facies. The next fan to the north is dominated by plutonic and metamorphic clasts and contains abundant mud-matrix-supported debris-flow facies, as well as stream-flow facies. The northernmost depositional system consists of arkosic, channellized fluvial conglomerate and sandstone, overbank mudstone, and crevasse-splay sandstone units. Palaeocurrent data indicate eastward dispersal, away from the Beartooth Range.

Outstanding exposure of the Beartooth Conglomerate allows facies to be mapped on lateral photographic mosaics. A seven-fold hierarchy of bounding surfaces and enclosed lithosomes exists in the Beartooth Conglomerate. First- through fourth-order surfaces are analogous to first- through fourth-order surfaces that recently have been documented in sandy fluvial facies, with one exception: sediment gravity flows are bounded by first-order surfaces. Fifth-order surfaces are either erosional (e.g. lateral migration of fanhead trench) or accretionary (e.g. aggradation of fan surface during backfilling of trench, and construction of lobes on lower fan during entrenchment on upper fan). Some fifth-order surfaces coincide with intraformational angular unconformities and are thus the result of long-term fanhead entrenchment following uplift of the upper part of the fan. Sixth-order surfaces bound individual fan packages that are several hundred metres thick and ∼ 10 km2 in area. The enclosed sixth-order lithosomes are distinguishable in terms of petrofacies and lithofacies. A single seventh-order surface bounds the entire Beartooth Conglomerate. Lower-order lithosomes are produced by intrinsic processes of fan construction. Fifth-order lithosomes can be attributed to both extrinsic and intrinsic controls. Sixth- and seventh-order lithosomes are generated by extrinsic controls.