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Sequence stacking patterns in the Western Canada foredeep: influence of tectonics, sediment loading and eustasy on deposition of the Upper Cretaceous Kaskapau and Cardium Formations



The Kaskapau and Cardium Formations span Late Cenomanian to Early Coniacian time and were deposited on a low-gradient foredeep ramp. The studied portion of the Kaskapau Formation spans ca 3·5 Myr and forms a mudstone-dominated wedge thinning from 700 to <50 m from SW to NE over ca 300 km. In contrast, the Cardium Formation spans about 2·1 Myr, is about 100 m thick, sandstone-rich and broadly tabular. The Kaskapau and Cardium Formations are divided, respectively, into 28 and nine allomembers, each bounded by marine flooding surfaces. Kaskapau allomembers 1 to 7 show about 200 km of offlap from the forebulge, accompanied by progradation of thin sandstones from the eroded forebulge crest. In contrast, Kaskapau allomembers 8 to 28 and Cardium allomembers C1 to C9 show overall onlap onto the forebulge of about 350 km, and contain no forebulge-derived sandstones. This broad pattern is interpreted as recording a latest Cenomanian pulse of tectonic loading which led to shoreline back-step in the proximal foredeep and coeval uplift of the forebulge, leading to erosion. The advance of the sediment wedge after Kaskapau allomember 7 is attributed primarily to the isostatic effect of a distributed sediment load; the advance of the orogenic wedge had a subordinate effect on subsidence of the forebulge. For Kaskapau allomembers 1 to 6, isopachs trend north to south, suggesting a load directly to the west; allomembers 7 to 28 show an abrupt rotation of isopachs to NW–SE, suggesting that the load shifted several hundred kilometres to the south. This re-orientation might be related to a change from an approximately orthogonal to a dextral transpressive stress regime.

Within the longer-term offlap–onlap cycle recorded by the Kaskapau and Cardium Formations, individual allomembers are grouped into packages reflecting higher-frequency onlap–offlap cycles, each spanning ca 0·5 to 0·7 Myr. Offlap from the forebulge tends to be accompanied by more pronounced transgression in the foredeep, whereas onlap onto the forebulge is accompanied by progradation of tongues of shoreface sandstone. This relationship suggests that changes in deformation rate in the orogenic wedge modulated proximal subsidence rate, enhancing or suppressing shoreline progradation, and also causing subtle uplift or subsidence of the forebulge region. Wedge-shaped allomembers in the Kaskapau Formation contain shoreface sandstone and conglomerate that prograded, respectively, <40 and <25 km from the preserved basin margin; progradation of coarse clastics was limited by rapid flexural subsidence. Tabular allomembers of the Cardium Formation imply a low flexural subsidence rate and contain sandy and conglomeratic shoreface deposits that prograded up to ca 180 km from the preserved basin margin. This relationship suggests that low rates of flexural subsidence promoted steeper alluvial gradients, more vigorous gravel transport and more extensive shoreface progradation. Overall, observed stratal geometry and facies distribution is explained readily in terms of current elastic flexural models. Most shoreface sandstones in the proximal foredeep show evidence of forced regression. Eustasy provides the most plausible explanation for relative sea-level rise–fall cycles on the 125 kyr allomember timescale. Geometric relationships suggest eustatic oscillations of about 10 m. Forced regressive shoreface development was suppressed during Kaskapau allomembers 1 to 10 when the rate of flexural subsidence was at its highest.