Aggradation of gravels in tidally influenced fluvial systems: Upper Albian (Lower Cretaceous) on the cratonic margin of the North American Western Interior foreland basin

Robert L. Brenner, Gregory A. Ludvigson, Brian L. Witzke, Preston Lee Phillips, Timothy S. White, David F. Ufnar, Luis A. González, R. Matthew Joeckel, Adrian Goettemoeller, Benjamin R. Shirk

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14 Scopus citations


Alluvial conglomerates were widely distributed around the margin of the Early Cretaceous North American Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway (KWIS). Conglomerates, sandstones, and lesser amounts of mudstones of the upper Albian Nishnabotna Member of the Dakota Formation were deposited as fill-in valleys that were incised up to 80 m into upper Paleozoic strata. These paleovalleys extended southwestward across present-day northwestern Iowa into eastern Nebraska. Conglomerate samples from four localities in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska consist mostly of polycrystalline quartz with lesser amounts of microcrystalline (mostly chert), and monocrystalline quartz. Previous studies discovered that some chert pebbles contain Ordovician-Pennsylvanian invertebrate fossils. The chert clasts analyzed in this study were consistent with these findings. In addition, we found that non-chert clasts consist of metaquartzite, strained monocrystalline quartz and 'vein' quartz from probable Proterozic sources, indicating that parts of the fluvial system's sediment load must have travelled distances of 400-1200 km. The relative tectonic stability of this subcontinent dictated that stream gradients were relatively low with estimates ranging from 0.3 to 0.6 m/km. Considering the complex sedimentologic relationships that must have been involved, the ability of low-gradient easterly-sourced rivers to entrain gravel clasts was primarily a function of paleodischarge rather than a function of steep gradients. Oxygen isotopic evidence from Albian sphaerosiderite-bearing paleosols in the Dakota Formation and correlative units from Kansas to Alaska suggest that mid-latitude continental rainfall in the Albian was perhaps twice that of the modern climate system. Hydrologic fluxes may have been related to wet-dry climatic cycles on decade or longer scales that could account for the required water supply flux. Regardless of temporal scale, gravels were transported during 'high-energy' pulses, under humid climatic conditions in large catchment areas. An overall rising sea level during the late Albian created accommodation space for the gravelly lithofacies equivalent to the Kiowa-Skull Creek rocks. As Western Interior sea level rose, regional stream gradients were reduced, resulting in regional fluvial aggradation. The conglomeratic lower parts of the Nishnabotna Member of the Dakota Formation formed the transgressive systems tract within an upper Albian sequence that is defined by two unconformities that can be traced from marine Kiowa strata in western Kansas northeastward into western Iowa (Brenner et al., 2000). Mud-draped cross-bedded sandstone bodies, laminated mudstone intervals, and vertical burrows in the lower strata of the Nishnabotna Member indicate that estuarine conditions existed at the mouths of the river system, and tidal effects were transmitted at least 200 km inland from the interpreted late Albian coast. These observations suggest that estuarine conditions stepped up the incised valleys as fluvial sediments aggraded in response to regional transgression that continued through the Late Albian.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-448
Number of pages10
JournalCretaceous Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Palaeontology


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