Sedimentology and palaeogeomorphology of four large valley systems incising delta plains, western Canada Foreland Basin: implications for mid-Cretaceous sea-level changes



The mid-Cenomanian Dunvegan Formation represents a delta complex deposited on a foreland basin ramp over about 2 my. The Dunvegan is divided into 10 transgressive–regressive allomembers, labelled J–A in ascending order, each defined by regional marine transgressive surfaces. Parasequences within allomembers show an aggradational to offlapping stacking pattern that reflects alternate generation and removal of accommodation. The upper surfaces of allomembers H–E are incised by extensive valley systems traceable for up to 320 km and over about 50 000 km2. Valley depths range up to 41 m and can change significantly over short distances. However, the average depth of incision (mean 21 m) shows no systematic variation in longitudinal profiles and no evidence of headward shallowing. Valleys are typically 1–2 km wide, but locally widen to about 8 km. Widening is sometimes associated with confluence zones, but elsewhere it is not. Updip reaches of valleys are dominated by cross-bedded fluvial sandstone forming multistorey point-bar deposits. Sandstones contain widespread but uncommon paired carbonaceous drapes recognizable as tidal bundles. Inclined heterolithic stratification is locally well developed at the top of the valley fill. Downdip reaches of valleys, typically within 50 km of the lowstand shoreline, have a sandstone-dominated lower part and, locally, a mud-rich upper portion consisting of a variety of laminated heterolithic facies with a clear tidal signature. These heterolithic deposits may represent central basin, tidal flat, bayhead delta and point-bar environments. Valley filling took place mainly during the transgressive systems tract (TST) when tidally influenced environments migrated upvalley. Semi-diurnal tidal backwater effects extended at least 30 km landward of the regional maximum transgressive marine shoreline. The aggradational late TST and highstand systems tract (HST) includes deltaic and coastal plain deposits comprising lake and anastomosed river deposits that suggest a very low gradient (≈ 1:3000). Delta parasequences of the falling stage systems tract (FSST) offlap seaward and have no equivalent coastal plain deposits. The FSST has an average width of 60 km and an inferred gradient of 1:2500. The upper surfaces of the HST and FSST are extensively incised by valleys. The lowstand systems tract (LST) is subtly aggradational, lacks valleys and is characterized by large delta lobes fed by major distributaries. The width and inferred slope of the FSST, coupled with the thickness of aggradational TST and HST deposits on the coastal plain, suggest a vertical accommodation of about 35 m per transgressive event. About 11 m of this is attributed to isostatic subsidence resulting from water and sediment loads; the residual 24 m is attributed to eustatic rise. This sea-level change is of the same order of magnitude as the valley depths. The length of valleys, however, does not seem to be explicable solely in terms of downstream forcing by sea-level change, and an additional, upstream-forcing mechanism, possibly related to precipitation cycles in the Milankovitch band, might be inferred.