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Spatial variability of palaeosols across Cretaceous interfluves in the Dunvegan Formation, NE British Columbia, Canada: palaeohydrological, palaeogeomorphological and stratigraphic implications



A basic sedimentological and palaeopedological framework is now in place for non-marine sequence models. The variability of interfluve palaeosols has not, however, been systematically documented, nor have the stratigraphic implications of that variability been incorporated into sequence models. Interfluve palaeosol variability in the deltaic Dunvegan Formation, NE British Columbia, Canada, is investigated, for which a detailed allostratigraphic and palaeogeographic framework has been developed, based on abundant well (> 2300 logs) and outcrop (> 60 sections) control. Regionally extensive valley fills and interfluves have been mapped in coastal plain deposits over an area of about 50 000 km2. This palaeogeographic framework permits interfluve surfaces exposed in outcrop to be located in terms of distance from the margins of coeval valleys. The micromorphological, geochemical and mineralogical characteristics of five representative sequence-bounding palaeosols located from 250 m to more than 15 km from coeval valley margins are described. These interfluve palaeosols are similar to modern Alfisols and all record (i) aggradation on an alluvial/coastal plain; (ii) a subsequent static and/or degradational phase related to valley incision, non-deposition and soil thickening; and (iii) a final aggradational phase related to valley filling and renewed sedimentation across the coastal plain. Within this overall template, however, variations in palaeosol thickness, redoximorphic features, illuvial clay content and geochemistry suggest developmental control by hydrological characteristics that were influenced by both the nature of the underlying alluvial sediments and distance from the valley margin. The presence of mature interfluve palaeosols with complex developmental histories suggests that landscape dissection may have been related to terrace development associated with valley incision. Palaeosols closer to valley margins are thicker, contain more illuvial clay and display characteristics suggesting better drained conditions relative to those palaeosols that developed further from valley margins. Subsequent deposition on interfluves also reflects distance from valleys, with those sites close to valleys accumulating cumulic soils with evidence of brackish groundwater, whereas far from valleys (> 10–15 km), groundwater was fresh and clastic supply minimal, encouraging peat formation. Variations in drainage and palaeotopography during landscape dissection resulted in different palaeosol development styles on interfluve surfaces that can be shown, on the basis of physical correlation, to have the same geomorphic age. These observations support the concept of the soil-forming interval as a basis for pedostratigraphic correlation in ancient terrestrial deposits. Palaeosol variability on interfluves is to be expected, and recognition and documentation of this variability is an important prerequisite to palaeogeomorphological, palaeoclimatic and sequence stratigraphic interpretations.