Controls on the accumulation of coal and on the development of anastomosed fluvial systems in the Cretaceous Dakota Formation of southern Utah



Alluvial strata of the Cretaceous Dakota Formation of southern Utah are part of a transgressive systems tract associated with a foreland basin developed adjacent to the Sevier orogenic belt. These strata contain valley fill deposits, anastomosed channel systems and widespread coals. The coals constitute a relatively minor part of the Dakota Formation in terms of sediment volume, but may represent a substantial amount of the time represented by the formation. The coals are separated by clastic units up to 20 m thick.

The stratigraphically lowest clastic unit of the Dakota Formation lies above an unconformity cut into Jurassic rocks. Incised valleys associated with the unconformity are up to 12 m deep. Two discrete episodes of valley fill sedimentation are recognized, including a lower sandstone unit with conglomerate layers, and an upper, discontinuous, coal-bearing unit. After the valleys filled, the area became one of low relief where extensive mires formed. Peat accumulation was interrupted at least three times by deposition of clastic sediment derived from the west.

The clastic units consist of sandstone, mudstone or heterolithic ribbon bodies, stacked tabular sandstones, and laminated mudstones, and contain minor coal beds less than 0·35 m thick. Ribbon bodies are 1–9 m thick and 15–160 m wide, have pronounced basal scours, and are filled with both lateral and vertical accretion deposits. An anastomosed channel complex is suggested by the large number of coeval channels of varying dimensions, the variation in the structure and grain size of channel fills, and the presence of abundant tabular sandstones interpreted as crevasse splays. Although some sandstone bodies have well developed lateral accretion surfaces, the overall ribbon geometry indicates that mature meandering streams were not well developed. This is in contrast to modern anastomosed systems, which are commonly thought to be a transitional morphology caused by avulsion of a meander belt to a new position on its floodplain. Rather than being a transitional channel pattern related to river avulsion, the anastomosed channels of the Dakota Formation may have formed part of a large inland delta that episodically invaded widespread mires. The mires developed during periods when clastic influx was reduced either by high rates of subsidence close to the thrust belt or by deflection of rivers by emergent thrusts.