Stratigraphical architecture at the muddy margin of the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, southern Utah



The Tropic Shale and correlative Tununk Shale Member of the Mancos Shale accumulated during Cenomanian-Turonian time, within prodeltaic environments near the western margin of the Western Interior Seaway of North America. Stratigraphical and sedimentological analysis has revealed a detailed history of relative sea level change in the thick, fine grained succession. The Tropic and Tununk shales were deposited during the Greenhorn second-order sea level cycle, over a time span of about 2–5 million years. In southern Utah, six depositional sequences are superposed upon the record of this long term sea level change. The sequences developed during third-order relative sea level cycles of hundreds of thousands of years duration and are composed of at least 37 parasequences, arranged in retrogradational, aggradational and progradational parasequence sets.

The Tropic Shale and Tununk Shale Member accumulated just basinward of the axis of maximum subsidence of a foreland basin. Stratal geometries and facies distribution patterns in the succession indicate that in southern Utah the Greenhorn cycle was tectonically controlled. During the Greenhorn transgression and highstand, rapid rates of tectonic subsidence trapped terrigenous sediment to the west of the study area, in the more proximal foreland. At this time, hemipelagic facies accumulated at relatively slow rates in southern Utah and type 2 sequences developed during third-order sea level cycles. In contrast, during the Greenhorn regression rates of thrust-induced subsidence in the proximal foreland basin evidently slowed, and deltaic clinoforms prograded across the study area. At least one forced regression occurred in southern Utah at this time, and type 1 sequences developed.

The formation of type 1 sequence boundaries in the upper part of the Tropic Shale and Tununk Shale Member points to episodes of base level fall and indicates that the six third-order sea level cycles recorded in the succession were not the result of changes in sediment supply alone. The third-order cycles may have been a consequence of episodic tectonism. The timing of these cycles, however, suggests that development of sequences and parasequences in the Tropic Shale and Tununk Shale Member may have been related to orbital forcing in the Milankovitch band. Glacioeustasy or climatically related fluctuations in the amount of groundwater stored on continents may explain these high frequency sea level changes.