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Controls on large-scale patterns of fluvial sandbody distribution in alluvial to coastal plain strata: Upper Cretaceous Blackhawk Formation, Wasatch Plateau, Central Utah, USA

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Abstract

Current models of alluvial to coastal plain stratigraphy are concept-driven and focus on relative sea-level as an allogenic control. These models are tested herein using data from a large (ca 100 km long and 300 m thick), continuous outcrop belt (Upper Cretaceous Blackhawk Formation, central Utah, USA). Many channelized fluvial sandbodies in the Blackhawk Formation have a multilateral and multistorey internal character, and they generally increase in size and abundance (from ca 10% to ca 30% of the strata) from base to top of the formation. These regional, low-resolution trends exhibit much local variation, but are interpreted to reflect progressively decreasing tectonic subsidence in the upper Blackhawk Formation and overlying Castlegate Sandstone. The trend may also incorporate progressively more frequent channel avulsion during deposition of the lower Blackhawk Formation. Laterally extensive coal zones formed on the coastal plain during shallow-marine transgressions, and define the high-resolution stratigraphic framework of the lower Blackhawk Formation. Large (up to 25 m thick and 1 to 6 km wide), multistorey, multilateral, fluvial channel-complex sandbodies that overlie composite erosion surfaces occur at distinct stratigraphic levels, and are interpreted as fluvial incised valley fills. Low amplitude (<30 m) relative sea-level variations are interpreted as the dominant control on stratigraphic architecture in the lower Blackhawk Formation, which was deposited up to 50 km inland from the coeval shoreline. In contrast, the high-resolution stratigraphy of the upper Blackhawk Formation is poorly defined, and channelized fluvial sandbodies are poorly organized. Vertical and laterally offset stacking of a small proportion (<10%) of sandbodies produced ‘clusters’ that are not confined by ‘master’ erosion surfaces. Avulsion is interpreted to dominate the stratigraphic architecture of the upper Blackhawk Formation. This data-driven analysis indicates that alluvial to coastal plain stratigraphic architecture reflects a combination of various allogenic controls and autogenic behaviours. The relative sea-level control emphasized in sequence stratigraphic models is only rarely dominant.

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