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Integrated Study of Ancient Delta-Front Deposits, Using Outcrop, Ground-Penetrating Radar, and Three-Dimensional Photorealistic Data: Cretaceous Panther Tongue Sandstone, Utah, U.S.A.

By
Cornel Olariu
Cornel Olariu
Geosciences Department, University Of Texas At Dallas, P.O. Box, 830688, Richardson, Texas 75083-0688, U.S.A.
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Janok P. Bhattacharya
Janok P. Bhattacharya
Geosciences Department, University Of Texas At Dallas, P.O. Box, 830688, Richardson, Texas 75083-0688, U.S.A.
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Xueming Xu
Xueming Xu
Center For Lithospheric Studies, University Of Texas At Dallas, P.O. Box, 830688, Richardson, Texas 75083-0688, U.S.A.
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Carlos L.V. Aiken
Carlos L.V. Aiken
Center For Lithospheric Studies, University Of Texas At Dallas, P.O. Box, 830688, Richardson, Texas 75083-0688, U.S.A.
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Xiaoxian Zeng
Xiaoxian Zeng
Center For Lithospheric Studies, University Of Texas At Dallas, P.O. Box, 830688, Richardson, Texas 75083-0688, U.S.A.
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George A. McMechan
George A. McMechan
Center For Lithospheric Studies, University Of Texas At Dallas, P.O. Box, 830688, Richardson, Texas 75083-0688, U.S.A.
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Published:
January 01, 2005
River Deltas—Concepts, Models, and Examples.
SEPM Special Publication No. 83, Copyright © 2005.
SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology), ISBN 1-56576-113-8, p. 155-177.

Abstract

The detailed 3-D facies architecture of “terminal” distributary channels in proximal delta-front deposits of the Cretaceous Panther Tongue delta in central Utah is imaged using digital mapping techniques and ground-penetrating radar (GPR).

Four lithofacies were identified: massive sandstone, parallel-laminated sandstone, rippled heterolithics, and bioturbated heterolithics. Lithofacies interpretations suggest shallow water in a delta-front environment where river processes dominate deposition, but with seasonal wave and storm influence. “Terminal” distributary channels and upstream-accreting bars were observed on cliffs oriented both perpendicular and parallel to the paleoflow direction. The terminal distributary-channel facies die out over less than 100 m distally into heterolithic deposits representing distal mouth bars of the delta front.

GPR and 3-D photorealistic techniques, together with sedimentary section measurements document the 3-D facies architecture. The 3D photorealistic technique consists of draping oblique, close-range photographic images on 3-D terrain models of outcrops to generate a digital three-dimensional model of the outcrop. 2-D GPR profiles, collected parallel to cliff faces, are tied to the 3-D outcrop model using Global Positioning System (GPS). GPR lines are correlated with bedding diagrams of cliff-face exposures to extend mapping of sedimentary features behind the outcrop into three dimensions. Scours elongate downcurrent represent the bases of “terminal” distributary channels and show maximum relief of 5 m.

Introduction

Detailed studies of the 3-D facies architecture of delta deposits have largely been neglected compared to fluvial (e.g., Miall 1996) or deep-water (e.g., Bouma and Stone, 2000) systems. Facies architectural studies of ancient delta deposits are typically regional and large scale (Broussard, 1975; Coleman and Wright, 1975; Bhattacharya, 1991; Ori et al., 1991; Bhattacharya and Walker, 1992; Reading and Collinson, 1996), and most studies are based on well and seismic data. More detailed descriptions of depositional bed geometries are required to understand delta heterogeneities and processes at a local intra-reservoir scale.

The study of outcrops remains a primary tool for understanding facies architecture and for reservoir characterization studies. The present study focuses on a small area (4 km2) where proximal delta-front deposits of the Panther Tongue sandstone form cliffs 25-30 m high. Strike-oriented Panther Tongue cliffs show erosional features interpreted as distributary channels (Newman and Chan, 1991). An alternative interpretation is that they are subaqueous scours related to storms. On a dip-oriented cliff, landward-dipping beds were also observed, but it is not clear if these represent oblique cuts through laterally accreting channels or upstream-accreting bars. For a better interpretation of these features, a 3-D approach is necessary.

In modern deltas, “terminal” distributary channels form at the distal ends of shallow-water deltas by multiple bifurcations of larger delta-plain distributary channels. “Terminal” distributary channels are typically shallow and narrow as the discharge of the “trunk” feeder channel is distributed among many shallow channels. There are no 3-D studies that document the internal architecture of “terminal” distributary channels associated with river-dominated delta fronts, despite the abundance of these features in modern deltas (van Heerden and Roberts, 1988; Bhattacharya et al., 2001; Overeem et al., 2003).

Regional Setting

The Panther Tongue crops out on the eastern side of the Wasatch Plateau and on the western side of the Book Cliffs (Fig. 1). The study area is limited to the most proximal facies of the Panther Tongue sandstone, exposed on the western limit of the Book Cliffs along Spring Canyon and Sow Belly Gulch (Fig. 1). Coarsening-upward deposits of the Panther Tongue form vertical sandstone cliffs with a maximum thickness of 30 meters. Cliffs are oriented at different angles relative to the paleoflow direction, and as a consequence strike and dip cuts are available for study.

The Panther Tongue Sandstone is Campanian in age and is the lower of two sandy tongues of the Star Point Formation in the Mancos Formation shale. The thickness of the Star Point Formation varies between 7 m and 100 m (Hintze, 1988), and the Star Point is overlain by a tongue of the Upper Mancos Shale. Sandstones of the Panther Tongue interfinger to the east (paleoseaward) with the Mancos Shale (Fig. 2; Young, 1955; Weimer, 1960; Fouch et al., 1983).

The Panther Tongue sedimentary succession formed in the Western Interior Seaway and has been interpreted as representing a nearshore depositional environment (Young, 1955; Howard, 1966). Young (1955) interpreted the Panther Tongue sandstone as a longshore bar oriented northeast-southwest. The Panther Tongue sandstone was specifically interpreted as deltaic by Newman and Chan (1991). A detailed ichnological study of the Panther Tongue suggested environmental facies intermediate between offshore and nearshore (Frey and Howard, 1985). In a sequence stratigraphic framework, Panther Tongue deposits have been interpreted to be a lowstand delta, formed during a forced regression (Posamentier and Morris, 2000). Topset facies are largely absent as a consequence of extensive erosion during subsequent transgression of the delta. At the top of the lowstand delta, variations in the capping transgressive lag were mapped regionally by Hwang and Heller (2002).

Balsley (1983) interpreted the Panther Tongue deposits from the Spring Canyon-Sow Belly Gulch area, north of Helper, Utah, as a proximal delta front containing channel deposits alternating with mouth-bar deposits, representing a mixed-load, turbidite-dominated “inertial” delta. Despite the regional stratigraphic studies, no detailed studies of the facies architecture of these deltas have been published.

Placing Panther Tongue deposits on a regional paleogeographic map (Fig. 3) shows that the delta lies landward of the published paleoshoreline position. Because these maps were based on the distribution of marine fauna (McGookey et al., 1972; Williams and Stelck, 1975; Cobban et al., 1994), the shoreline position is overestimated basinward. The mean paleoflow direction measured in this study is to the southwest, at azimuth 207° (Fig. 3). This value is consistent with previous measurements (Newman and Chan, 1991) but raises questions related to subparallel direction of progradation relative to mapped paleoshorelines in other studies (Fig. 3). Delta deposits below and above the Panther Tongue prograded mainly toward the east (Balsley, 1983) versus the south for the Panther Tongue. The southward direction of the Panther Tongue delta progradation might be structurally controlled, as suspected by Posamentier et al. (1995). This assumption of a possible tectonic component is based on the interpretation of progradation and migration of deltaic lobes toward the south and southwest during forced regression (Posamentier et al., 1995, their Fig. 2). A possible control by N-S oriented longshore currents is considered unlikely given the absence of coeval shoreface deposits.

Data And Methods

To study the 3-D facies architecture, ground-penetrating radar (GPR), novel 3-D photorealistic techniques, and vertical stratigraphic sections were measured along the cliff face using technical climbing devices. GPS measurements allowed accurate location of measured sections at the top of cliffs (Fig. 1).

Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Fig. 1.

.—Outcrop belt of Panther Tongue Sandstone (modified after Howard, 1966), and location of data collected in Spring Canyon area.

Fig. 1.

.—Outcrop belt of Panther Tongue Sandstone (modified after Howard, 1966), and location of data collected in Spring Canyon area.

Two GPR lines were collected at the top of the Panther Tongue sandstone parallel to the cliff orientation. The profiles are oriented along the depositional strike and dip and are 180 m and 150 m long (Fig. 1). At the top of the Panther Tongue in the Spring Canyon-Sow Belly Gulch area the soil is relatively thin close to the cliff faces, permitting collection of high-quality GPR data (Fig. 1). The topography of the study area and soil thickening away from cliffs limits the capability to collect more extensive 2-D or 3-D data. A pulse EKKO IV system with 50 MHz antennas, spaced 3 m apart, and 100 MHz antennas, spaced 2 m apart, both with a 1000 V transmitter, were used. In this paper only the 50 MHz data was interpreted because it has a deeper penetration, with a vertical resolution of approximately 0.5 m. Common-mid-point (CMP) data were used for velocity estimation. An average velocity of 0.12 m/ns was used to process the data.

Fig. 2.

—Stratigraphic relations of Upper Cretaceous rocks in east-central Utah (modified after Young, 1955, and Weimer, 1960)

Fig. 2.

—Stratigraphic relations of Upper Cretaceous rocks in east-central Utah (modified after Young, 1955, and Weimer, 1960)

Fig. 3.

—Paleoshoreline during early Campanian (modified after Williams and Stelck, 1975).

Fig. 3.

—Paleoshoreline during early Campanian (modified after Williams and Stelck, 1975).

GPR data processing involves several steps, each of which represents an important improvement in imaging primary radar reflections. Signal dewowing eliminates the low-frequency background caused by diffusion of electric current into the ground (Annan, 1999). Time-zero alignment moves the traces so that the direct arrivals occur at the same time. Trace editing replaces noisy traces (or only part of a trace) with values from adjacent traces. Air-wave average removal is necessary to remove the direct ground and air waves (Annan, 1999). Direct ground and air waves appear because of the high contrast of electromagnetic properties between air and ground. Topography corrections and migration result in a realistic positioning of radar reflectors in depth. Migration is extremely useful, but without a good knowledge of velocity structure, distortions can be generated (Annan, 1999).

Historically, most published GPR studies stop with processing after time-zero alignment, and only a few remove air waves or correct for topography. Migration of GPR data is relatively new (e.g., Fisher et al., 1992a; Fisher et al., 1992b); for data collected in this study, depth migration was done using a prestack Kirchhoff algorithm (Epili and McMechan, 1996).

Photorealistic Technique (Cybermapping)

3-D digital data from cliffs exposed in Spring Canyon and Sow Belly Gulch were also collected (Fig. 1) using new photorealistic techniques that allow reconstruction of realistic 3-D outcrop models.

The approach used in this project is to drape close-range color photographic images on a high-resolution digital terrain model of the outcrop (Xu, 2000). This method allows us to build a realistic 3-D model of the outcrop with centimeters to decimeters accuracy, with which the geology can then be interpreted interactively on a computer screen instead of on a 2-D photomosaic. An advantage is that the high accuracy of the data allows quantitative data analysis and the use of real color images, which can be easily interpreted.

For data collection we used a Leica 500 RTK GPS system in differential mode, two reflectorless robotic MDL Atlanta Laser Systems stations, Topcon GPT-1002 total station with non-prism capability, and a Fuji Pro digital SLR camera (Table 1). The flow chart of the data collection is shown in Fig. 4. A site for a GPS base station and its radio transmitter is determined by satellite visibility and is accurately located (step 1 in Fig. 4) by being differentially corrected after the location by post-processing it with data from the Salt Lake City CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Station) (step 2 in Fig. 4) (Parkinson and Spilker, 1996). The “rover” GPS is located by real-time differential GPS, utilizing the correction from the base station to the satellite signal (step 3.1 in Fig. 4) provided by radio signal in real time received from the base station (step 3.2 in Fig. 4) (Parkinson and Spilker, 1996). The rover GPS was used to measure the topography of the area and to locate the GPR lines (step 4.1 in Fig. 4), the tops of the measured sections on the cliff (step 4.2 in Fig. 4), the robotic scanners (step 4.3 in Fig. 4), and the reflectorless total station (step 4.4 in Fig. 4). From the known scanner locations, cliff faces were scanned with robotic Auto-scanning Laser System stations (step 5 in Fig. 4). To scan the outcrop, the robotic scanner was set so that the relative distance between points on the outcrop was approximately 1 m.

With a Topcon GPT-1002 electronic tacheometer (total station), control points were post-processed in the field (step 6 in Fig. 4) using bicycle reflectors or paint as identifiers of the stations. Digital images of the cliff faces were collected using a digital camera (step 7 in Fig. 4) using 35 mm, 50 mm, and 135 mm lenses (depending on distance) to increase maximum resolution. Each photographic image had at least eight control points.

All data sets from different stations were corrected and tied to global coordinates by GPS. Data processing for a photorealistic outcrop was developed by Xu (2000) and involves several major steps in building the terrain surface of the outcrop and draping images on the terrain surface (Fig. 5A). GoCad™ software was used to generate surfaces of the scanned outcrops. GoCad™ has directional constraints to apply to fitted surfaces. Directional constraints are necessary to fit surfaces which are not vertical (and may even have overhang). GoCad™ software uses the algorithm described by Mallet (1989). It is also relatively easy to fit surfaces defining geological bodies with GoCad™. With constraints allowed by the software, surfaces are fitted to the raw data points (Fig. 5B). To drape images on the terrain surface of the outcrop, corrections for lens distortion have been made. For this approach we used a pinhole camera model in which x, y, z world coordinates are translated into (u, v) image coordinates (Fig. 5C) (Xu, 2000 ). The pinhole camera model is a simplified model which does not include radial and tangential distortions made by camera lenses. Therefore, a least-squares method is used to minimize the radial and tangential distortion by calibrating the lenses (Xu, 2000 ).

Facies

Four lithofacies were distinguished in the Panther Tongue delta-front deposits: massive sandstone, parallel-laminated sandstone, rippled heterolithic, and bioturbated heterolithic. Facies descriptions are presented in Table 2.

Lithofacies Interpretation

The four lithofacies are interpreted as different stages related to river discharge and flow conditions within the delta front. The physical and biological structures and how these were formed are discussed briefly below for each facies.

Table 1.

Equipment used for photorealistic acquisition and technical characteristics.

Leica 500 GPS Systems Used in Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Stop and Go mode. Accuracy 1-2 cm. 
MDL Laser ACE System, MDL Laser Atlanta System Three-dimensional robotic laser scanning systems. Acquire relative positions from different surface types without the need of a prism. Range is 300 m and accuracy 5 cm. 
Topcon GPT 1002 Reflectorless total station. In reflectorless mode has a range of 80 meters and 1 cm accuracy. 
Fuji S1 Pro Professional digital camera with a maximum resolution of 3040 X 2016 pixels. Different Nikon lenses (35 mm, 50 mm, 135 mm) can be attached to the body. 
 
Leica 500 GPS Systems Used in Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Stop and Go mode. Accuracy 1-2 cm. 
MDL Laser ACE System, MDL Laser Atlanta System Three-dimensional robotic laser scanning systems. Acquire relative positions from different surface types without the need of a prism. Range is 300 m and accuracy 5 cm. 
Topcon GPT 1002 Reflectorless total station. In reflectorless mode has a range of 80 meters and 1 cm accuracy. 
Fuji S1 Pro Professional digital camera with a maximum resolution of 3040 X 2016 pixels. Different Nikon lenses (35 mm, 50 mm, 135 mm) can be attached to the body. 
 
Fig. 4.

—Major steps in collection of data for photorealistic outcrop model.

Fig. 4.

—Major steps in collection of data for photorealistic outcrop model.

Fig. 5.

Fig. 5.—A) Data-processing steps for building the digital outcrop model. B) Detailed view of raw points and the GoCad™ terrain surface of the outcrop. The blue dots represent raw data points, and the line from surface to the points represents the constraint direction. C) Pinpoint principle of coordinate translation from x, y, z to u, v (modified after Xu, 2000 ).

Fig. 5.

Fig. 5.—A) Data-processing steps for building the digital outcrop model. B) Detailed view of raw points and the GoCad™ terrain surface of the outcrop. The blue dots represent raw data points, and the line from surface to the points represents the constraint direction. C) Pinpoint principle of coordinate translation from x, y, z to u, v (modified after Xu, 2000 ).

Table 2.

Lithofacies description for proximal delta-front deposits of the Panther Tongue sandstonein the Spring Canyon-Sow Belly Gulch area.

Lihofacies Lithology Thickness Physical structures Bio-structures Environment 
Lithofacies 1: Massive sandstone 
Fine to medium sandstone Decimeter to 5 meters Structureless; relatively common scours; rare large (dm to meter) trough cross bedding; rare scours; rare mud rip-up clasts Burrows uncommon, but within scours or at the top of beds can be highly bioturbated; Ophiomorha and Teredolites were identified; extremely rare shell fragments "Terminal" distributary channel or mouth bar 
Lithofacies 2: Parallel-laminatedsandstone Fine to medium sandstone Usually less than 1 meter; rare thicker than 1 cm Horizontal parallel stratification; rare hummocky cross stratification; common tool marks Rare to common Ophiomorpha, Skolithos, Teredolites clavatus, and Teredolites longissimus Mouth bar or "terminal" distributary channel 
Lithofacies 3: Rippledheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Common 5-10 cm; extremely rare over 20 cm In both sandstone and siltstone: asymmetric current ripples; rare symmetric ripples; rare parallel lamination Rare Planolites, Skolithos, Teichichnus; Rare organic matter (coal fragments) in cm-thick laminae Mouth bar 
Lithofacies 4: Bioturbatedheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Usually 5-10 cm; rare over 20 cm Almost structureless; rare distinguishable ripples or parallel lamination Highly bioturbated, Planolites, Skolithos, Paleophycus, Thalassinoides, Teichichnus, Cylindrichnus Relatively common coal fragments and cm-thick beds of organic matter Distal mouth bar or proximal mouth bar during low-discharge periods 
 
Lihofacies Lithology Thickness Physical structures Bio-structures Environment 
Lithofacies 1: Massive sandstone 
Fine to medium sandstone Decimeter to 5 meters Structureless; relatively common scours; rare large (dm to meter) trough cross bedding; rare scours; rare mud rip-up clasts Burrows uncommon, but within scours or at the top of beds can be highly bioturbated; Ophiomorha and Teredolites were identified; extremely rare shell fragments "Terminal" distributary channel or mouth bar 
Lithofacies 2: Parallel-laminatedsandstone Fine to medium sandstone Usually less than 1 meter; rare thicker than 1 cm Horizontal parallel stratification; rare hummocky cross stratification; common tool marks Rare to common Ophiomorpha, Skolithos, Teredolites clavatus, and Teredolites longissimus Mouth bar or "terminal" distributary channel 
Lithofacies 3: Rippledheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Common 5-10 cm; extremely rare over 20 cm In both sandstone and siltstone: asymmetric current ripples; rare symmetric ripples; rare parallel lamination Rare Planolites, Skolithos, Teichichnus; Rare organic matter (coal fragments) in cm-thick laminae Mouth bar 
Lithofacies 4: Bioturbatedheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Usually 5-10 cm; rare over 20 cm Almost structureless; rare distinguishable ripples or parallel lamination Highly bioturbated, Planolites, Skolithos, Paleophycus, Thalassinoides, Teichichnus, Cylindrichnus Relatively common coal fragments and cm-thick beds of organic matter Distal mouth bar or proximal mouth bar during low-discharge periods 
 
Lithofacies 1.—

Massive sandstone (Figs. 6A, 6B, 6D), is represented mainly by fine-grained to medium-grained structureless sandstone. Lithofacis 1 beds are decimeters to a few meters thick. Scour bases suggest deposition from high-sediment-concentration floods (Collinson and Thompson, 1982). Drag casts at the base of the beds (Figs. 6A ) indicate high-energy discharge. Extremely thick beds can be preserved because of amalgamation of deposits formed by successive flood events. Cross stratification (Fig. 6C) indicates a stable unidirectional flow with continuous flow for a time long enough to build and preserve dune-scale cross stratification. Highly bioturbated patches (Fig. 6D) are present in massive sandstone but are distinguished from lithofacies 4 (Table 2) by the lack of fine-grained sediments despite similar interpretation as periods of low discharge with organisms colonizing the top of sediments. Ophiomorpha (Fig. 6F) is a common ichnogenus suggesting a high-energy setting. Relatively low branching of Ophiomorpha and long vertical tubes indicate stressed conditions (high sedimentation rates, extremely high energy and storms; Frey et al., 1978). Teredolites burrows at the bases of the massive beds indicate continent-derived wood fragments in a marine environment (Fig. 6I). Lithofacies 1 is interpreted to have been deposited in subaqueous “terminal” distributary channels, under decelerating flow conditions with high sedimentation rates.

Lithofacies 2.—

Parallel-laminated sandstone has mainly parallel-stratified beds of fine-grained and medium-grained sandstone, although rare hummocky stratification is also present. Beds are usually decimeters to over one meter thick. The parallel stratification (Figs. 6D, 6E, 6F) is formed by increasing flow velocity and shallower-water conditions at the tops of bars associated with shallow channels. The parallel-laminated facies is interpreted as part of a Bouma-like sequence, where it overlies massive sandstone and underlies rippled heterolithics (Figs. 6B, 6F). Hummocky cross stratification (Fig. 6G) is formed by intermittent oscillatory storm waves (Collinson and Thompson, 1982). Lithofacies 2 beds are bioturbated by Ophiomorpha (Fig. 6E) and Skolithos, which indicate high and variable energy settings (Pemberton, 1992). Proliferation of both species of wood-boring Teredolites clavatus and Teredolites longissimus indicate abundance of continent-derived wood fragments in a marine environment. Toolmarks at the bases of parallel-laminated sandstone beds indicates a zone of bypass, with relatively strong currents at least at the beginning of bed deposition. Lithofacies 2 is interpreted to have been deposited mainly in a mouth-bar area, but it might also have been formed in a “terminal” distributary channel as the channel itself is infilled.

Lithofacies 3.—

Rippled heteroliths comprise beds of alternating rippled sandstone and siltstone (Figs. 6B, 6F). The beds are relatively thin, usually less than 10 cm. Depositional rates were low, and silt/sand variations are formed by variation of flow conditions. Asymmetric ripples were formed by unidirectional flow, but rare symmetric ripples indicate some wave influence. Ripple-laminated beds might be formed by decreasing flow energy and in some places overlie parallel-laminated beds as a part of a Bouma-like sequence. The occurrence of Skolithos indicates relatively high-energy settings, but the presence of Planolites and Teichichnus indicates lower-energy conditions ideal for deposit feeders (Pemberton, 1992). Rare organic matter (coal, plant fragments) indicates a continental source of the sediments. Lithofacies 3 is interpreted to have been formed by unidirectional flow during low discharges at the tops of the mouth bars.

Lithofacies 4.—

Bioturbated heterolithics are characterized by pervasive bioturbation and contain beds centimeters to decimeters thick. Relatively high diversity and abundance of ichnospecies Planolites, Paleophycus, Skolithos, Cylindrichnus, and Teichichnus (Fig. 6H) indicate relatively stable conditions, with low variations in stress factors. The ichnofacies association within bioturbated heterolithic beds indicates a distal Skolithos or proximal Cruziana ichnofacies (Pemberton, 1992). Relatively common laminae of organic matter, a few centimeters thick, indicate a continental source of sediments and a depositional environment with extremely low-energy conditions, probably below the fair-weather wave base. Lithofacies 4 is interpreted to have been formed in mouth-bar environments during low-discharge conditions or in bays between “terminal” distributary channels.

Fig. 6.

—Lithofacies photos: A) Massive sandstone with drag casts overlie bioturbated heterolithic bed, B) alternation of massive sandstone with rippled heterolithic beds, C) cross-laminated sandstone.Lithofacies photos: D) patches of intense bioturbation in massive and parallel-laminated sandstone, E) Ophiomorpha nodosa in parallel-laminated sandstone, F) Massive sandstone with Ophiomorpha, parallel-laminated beds overlain by rippled heterolithic deposits.Lithofacies photos: G) Hummocky cross stratification at the top and structureless sandstone with Ophiomorpha at the base, H) Highly bioturbated heterolithic beds with organic matter laminae, Skolithos, and Planolites, I) Teredolites at the base of massive sandstone.

Fig. 6.

—Lithofacies photos: A) Massive sandstone with drag casts overlie bioturbated heterolithic bed, B) alternation of massive sandstone with rippled heterolithic beds, C) cross-laminated sandstone.Lithofacies photos: D) patches of intense bioturbation in massive and parallel-laminated sandstone, E) Ophiomorpha nodosa in parallel-laminated sandstone, F) Massive sandstone with Ophiomorpha, parallel-laminated beds overlain by rippled heterolithic deposits.Lithofacies photos: G) Hummocky cross stratification at the top and structureless sandstone with Ophiomorpha at the base, H) Highly bioturbated heterolithic beds with organic matter laminae, Skolithos, and Planolites, I) Teredolites at the base of massive sandstone.

Fig. 7.

—Characteristic vertical measured section (no. 10) through proximal delta-front deposits of Panther Tongue sandstone. For location see Figure 1, Area 1; the legend is the same as Figure 8.

Fig. 7.

—Characteristic vertical measured section (no. 10) through proximal delta-front deposits of Panther Tongue sandstone. For location see Figure 1, Area 1; the legend is the same as Figure 8.

Fig. 8.

A) Strike-oriented 2-D photomosaic, B) bedding diagram, C) measured sections, and D) mapped facies of terminal distributary channels, located in Figure 1, Area 1. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections.

Lithofacies 2, parallel-laminated sandstone, has a gradual transition, vertically and horizontally, with lithofacies 1. Toward the bases of the studied cliff faces, beds of lithofacies 2 alternate with lithofacies 3 and lithofacies 4 deposits. Lithofacies 3 and 4, interpreted as deposited in a mouth-bar environment at relatively low discharge, decrease in occurrence toward the top of the succession, indicating delta progradation.

Fig. 8.

A) Strike-oriented 2-D photomosaic, B) bedding diagram, C) measured sections, and D) mapped facies of terminal distributary channels, located in Figure 1, Area 1. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections.

Lithofacies 2, parallel-laminated sandstone, has a gradual transition, vertically and horizontally, with lithofacies 1. Toward the bases of the studied cliff faces, beds of lithofacies 2 alternate with lithofacies 3 and lithofacies 4 deposits. Lithofacies 3 and 4, interpreted as deposited in a mouth-bar environment at relatively low discharge, decrease in occurrence toward the top of the succession, indicating delta progradation.

Bedding Architecture

It is observed that rippled heterolithic and bioturbated heterolithic deposits (lithofacies 3 and 4) usually overlie massive or parallel-laminated sandstone (lithofacies 1 and 2) (Figs. 7 ). Vertical transitions between massive sandstone (lithofacies 1) and parallel-laminated sandstone (lithofacies 2) are common. The vertical succession of facies is commonly similar to a Bouma sequence with massive sandstone at the base overlain by parallel-laminated sandstone, rippled heterolithics, and highly bioturbated heterolithics. Lateral transitions are common between massive sandstone (lithofacies 1) and parallel-laminated sandstone (lithofacies 2) but also between rippled heterolithics, massive sandstone (lithofacies 3), and bioturbated heterolithics (lithofacies 4).

The facies were mapped in 2-D on three cliff faces on the basis of photomosaics, bedding diagrams, and measured sections. Area 1 (Fig. 1) shows channelized features in cliff faces oriented perpendicular to paleoflow. The 2-D bedding diagram emphasizes the presence of shallow-channel features alternating with tabular beds (Figs. 8 ). Channelized features reach 6 m thick and are tens of meters wide, with lateral transition to tabular, submeter-thick beds which extend tens to hundreds of meters laterally. Channels form single-story fining-upward units. Channel margins can be sharp, cutting into more tabular beds, but more commonly these pinch out laterally into tabular beds (Figs. 8 ). Beds associated with the channelized features are structureless (lithofacies 1) but locally show trough cross stratification or hummocky cross stratification (HCS) (lithofacies 2). We interpret these as “terminal” distributary channels contained within delta-front deposits.

The main part of the channel deposits are interpreted to form during storm floods related to times of high discharge in the feeding trunk streams. A lithofacies bedding diagram, based on lithofacies description, was built using the 2-D photomosaic diagram and measured sections (Figs. 8 ). Channel deposits show a gradual transition to tabular beds consisting of structureless to planar-laminated sandstone (lithofacies 2) interbedded with rippled and highly bioturbated heterolithic beds (lithofacies 3 and 4); these tabular beds are interpreted as mouth-bar deposits.

The second cliff in area 2 (Fig. 1) is oriented subparallel to parallel to the paleoflow direction. This cliff is particularly interesting because the beds are inclined in an upstream direction relative to paleocurrent direction (Figs. 9 ). The observed beds have an inclination of approximately 12° north relative to present horizontal. Because the structural dip of Panther Tongue deposits is less than 10° toward a west-northwest direction, that implies an inclination of the beds of 2-3° (a slope of 0.035 to 0.05) relative to paleohorizontal. Beds are meters-thick, fine-grained to medium-grained massive sandstone (lithofacies 1) alternating with submeter highly bioturbated, rippled sandstone alternating with siltstone (lithofacies 3 and 4). Lithology, as well as ichnofacies assemblage, is similar to those in area 1. This geometry of the beds, with landward-inclined surfaces, is interpreted as upstream-accreting mouth bars in shallow channel cuts at the delta top (Figs. 9 ).

Area 3 lies about 100 m seaward of the first area and is oriented oblique to the paleoflow (Fig. 1). The photomosaic shows submeter tabular beds of fine-grained to very fine-grained sandstones (lithofacies 2) (Fig. 10). Beds thicker than 1 m or channelized features are rare and are usually associated with lithofacies 1 (massive sandstone). For the most part, beds are laterally continuous across the outcrop, or show low-angle pinchouts. Highly bioturbated beds (lithofacies 4) with indistinguishable trace fossils are more common than in areas 1 and 2. Organics-rich beds, more common than in area 1 (Fig. 1), extend tens of meters laterally and are usually associated with highly bioturbated beds (lithofacies 4). These deposits are interpreted to have been formed in a more distal environment with lower-energy conditions than in areas 1 and 2.

On the basis of previous facies interpretations and facies architecture, the Panther Tongue deposits from the Spring Canyon-Sow Belly Gulch area are interpreted to have been formed in a delta-front environment of a river-influenced delta lobe. No evidence for subaerial exposure was observed; all deposits were formed subaqueously in the delta front. HCS, Skolithos ichnofacies, and the lithofacies assemblages are indicators of shallow water with depths of a few meters and high-energy settings. The lack of fair-weather wave structures can be explained through river dominance or by the existence of a protected basin where wave energy was low.

3-D Interpretation

For 3-D interpretations, GPR and photorealistic data collected in areas 1 and 2 were used (Fig. 1). Using the 3-D model of the outcrop and ground-penetrating radar in global coordinates, bedding surfaces are extrapolated in 3-D. Surfaces are constrained by points digitized from the outcrop and by the ground-penetrating-radar lines (Fig 11A). As a general method to interpret the surfaces in 3-D, digitized GPR reflections were extended horizontally and correlated with the major bedding surfaces from the 3-D model of the outcrop. The structural dip in the study area is less than 10 degrees toward the west-northwest (Newman and Chan, 1991).

Resolution of the interpreted surfaces in global coordinates is at a decimeter scale, because of the GPR resolution and the uncertainties in fitting of the outcrop surfaces. Sedimentary bodies might be reconstructed between these surfaces, but it is difficult to attribute sedimentary facies because GPR resolution is below that of the sedimentological data collected in the outcrop.

The strike-oriented GPR line shows channel-type features, similar to those observed on the outcrop (Fig. 12A). The 3-D sedimentary surfaces show channel deposits that pass laterally into coeval mouth-bar deposits. Interpreted 3-D surfaces show that channelized features extend linearly in a NE-SW direction, confirming their interpretation as “terminal” distributary channels. “Terminal” distributary channels are bounded by surfaces with maximum relief of 5 meters, and adjacent mouth-bar deposits have lower topography of 1-2 m. The resulting 3-D surfaces show the same characteristic geometries observed on the corresponding part of the outcrop, with slight lateral variation in the location of channel deposits (Fig. 11B).

In area 2, where the cliff is oriented parallel with the paleoflow, the GPR line shows that the geometry of reflections (Fig. 12B) has a pattern similar to the outcrop bedding diagram (Figs. 9 ). The mapped 3-D surfaces show a consistent inclination toward the north with an approximately 12° dip (Fig. 13) relative to present horizontal, which represents a 2-3° dip relative to paleohorizontal. These landward-dipping surfaces are interpreted as upstream-accreting bars. Nevertheless, the strike of the two mapped surfaces in 3-D is different, suggesting at least two accretion generations with varying orientations. The alternative interpretation to upstream-migrating mouth bars is that they represent an oblique cut through a laterally accreting distributary channel. Outcrop paleoflow measurements are oriented approximately N-S, suggesting that the existence of a stable E-W oriented channel is less probable. Also, in modern delta-front environments, terminal distributary channels do not meander or show lateral migration. The channels are filled mostly by aggradation or by mouth-bar migration (van Heerden and Roberts, 1988). To our knowledge, upstream bar accretion has rarely been described in an ancient system, although it is commonly seen at upstream ends of braided bars (Best et al., 2003) and at the upstream ends of mouth bars (van Heerden and Roberts, 1988) in modern systems.

Fig. 9.

—A) Dip-oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of upstream aggrading mouth bar deposits; for location see Figure 1, Area 2; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections shown in Part 9C.(C) Correlated measured sections through aggrading mouth-bar deposits and D) dip-oriented facies and bedding diagram; for location see Figure 1, Area 2 and Part A and B; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Fig. 9.

—A) Dip-oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of upstream aggrading mouth bar deposits; for location see Figure 1, Area 2; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections shown in Part 9C.(C) Correlated measured sections through aggrading mouth-bar deposits and D) dip-oriented facies and bedding diagram; for location see Figure 1, Area 2 and Part A and B; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Fig. 10.

—A) Oblique oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the locations of the vertical measured sections.(C) Measured sections and D) mapped facies through distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3 and Part A; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Fig. 10.

—A) Oblique oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the locations of the vertical measured sections.(C) Measured sections and D) mapped facies through distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3 and Part A; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Discussion

3-D Methodology

Three-dimensional (3-D) representation, analysis, and interpretation of sedimentary deposits reveal spatial depositional relationships that are valuable for interpretation and understanding of depositional processes. Digital data can be incorporated into conceptual 3-D models and used to develop 3-D quantitative models which are powerful predictive tools.

Global Positional System (GPS) and rangefinder lasers allow more accurate collection of spatial data, but different approaches have been used to collect digital data and to describe the geology of the outcrops. The first approach is to measure geological features directly with GPS (Xu, 2000 ; Xu et al., 2000). Outcrops for such studies must have accessible slopes, because the methodology requires “walking out” geological features. The second approach is to map geological features on the outcrops remotely, using reflectorless laser guns (Nielsen et al., 1999; Xu, 2000 ; Xu et al., 1999; Xu et al., 2000). This approach can be used on steep or even overhanging cliff faces. The pitfall of using laser guns to map geological features is the difficulty of reinterpretation. A wrong interpretation (mapping) of some geological features in the field is difficult to correct in the computer or may require additional fieldwork to collect new data. The third approach is to use LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems (Bellian et al., 2002). With this approach, the result is a highly accurate 3-D image of the outcrop. Using the intensity of the reflected beams, a 3-D black-and-white digital image based on very dense data points is created. The advantage of this approach is the rapidity of the system and high accuracy of the data. The weakness is related to the possibility of misinterpreting geological features, because lithology and beds may not be easily differentiated on an outcrop model without color information.

In contrast, photorealistic acquisition and digital mapping, as described in this paper, provide a 3-D color “virtual outcrop” image. The resolution and accuracy of geologic features interpreted on such “virtual outcrops” (clinoforms, channels, cross-bed dip, sole-mark orientation) depend on the photo resolution, the laser scanning density, and the accuracy of scanners used to scan the outcrop. The detailed interpretation is better than LI-DAR, a different mapping technique used mainly for large areas. Integrating the photorealistic technique with GPR is a new quantitative approach to studies of outcrop reservoir analogs; quantitative results are extracted directly from 3-D digital models of the outcrop. The methodology described in this paper shows that the combination of GPR with digital mapping can be used for 3-D study of bed geometry in areas where 3-D GPR data cannot be collected.

GPR technology was previously used for analog reservoir studies (McMechan et al., 1997), and tied with GPS-laser technology (Corbeanu et al., 2001). Acquisition and processing of GPR data was improved, and 3-D GPR data are now used for reservoir analog studies (Corbeanu et al., 2001). GPR has been used mostly on recent unconsolidated sediments (Jol and Smith, 1991; Smith and Jol, 1992; Gawthorpe et al., 1993; Best et al., 2003). Studies in unconsolidated sediments are more common because these are more accessible. Also GPR has better results in unconsolidated sediments because air in the sediment pores gives high velocity and low attenuation to the signal (Davis and Annan, 1989; Jol and Smith, 1991; Smith and Jol, 1992; Gawthorpe et al., 1993; van Heteren et al., 1998). In addition to GPR data, cores or trenches are used to tie radar reflections with sedimentary facies (Jol and Smith, 1991; van Heteren et al., 1998).

Studies of ancient deposits have been pioneered by McMechan et al. (1997), Corbeanu et al. (2001), and Szerbiak et al. (2001). In studies of ancient deposits, it is rare to find large areas with planar outcrop surfaces to collect GPR lines. Ancient deposits usually are capped by thick soil, which attenuates the signal and limits the depth of acquisition. Data from outcrops or cliff faces are used more often than cores to tie GPR data to sedimentary facies in studies on ancient deposits (McMechan et al., 1997; Corbeanu et al., 2001).

“Terminal” Distributary Channels

For the first time, “terminal” distributary channels are identified in ancient delta deposits (Figs. 8, 11B). “Terminal” distributary channels are common features in modern deltas (Bhattacharya et al., 2001; Overeem et al., 2003), but they have previously been referred to as “secondary” or “tertiary” channels, because they sometimes represent the second or third order of branching within a multiple-bifurcating delta system, such as the modern-day Atchafalaya delta (van Heerden and Roberts, 1988). In ancient deposits it is more appropriate to use the term “terminal” distributary channel, because information about branching order cannot be readily or easily determined from an outcrop.

Deposits of “terminal” distributary channels are relatively small features that lie at the transition from delta-plain (fluvial distributary channel) deposits to mouth bar (marine) deposits. Because of this transitory position, deposits of “terminal” distributary channel have often been misinterpreted and attributed to be fluvial channels or mouth-bar deposits. In subsurface data, such as cores and logs, they can easily be overlooked, especially because they are contained completely within the delta front, and do not cut down into underlying prodelta facies. Smith and Jol (1992) observed the similar irregular geometry of reflectors on a strike-oriented GPR profile in a gravelly delta front, but without enough relief to map individual channels.

Many subsurface examples of “distributary-channel deposits” (e.g., Busch, 1971; Rasmussen et al. 1985;Cleaves and Bat 1988) actually refer to far larger features, many of which are probably better interpreted as incised valleys rather than as distributary channels (Willis, 1997; Bhattacharya et al., 2001). In general, “terminal” distributary-channel deposits are contained within the delta front and are intimately associated with mouth-bar deposits. Not all deposits of “terminal” distributary channels have trough cross stratification or rip-up mud clasts, or show obvious cut banks. This is especially true where the channels are filled with mouth-bar deposits; this is our interpretation of much of the structureless sandstone within otherwise clearly shallowly incised features in the Panther Tongue. Evidence of unidirectional flows (trough cross beds, asymmetric ripples) are found in some of the Panther Tongue “terminal” distributary channels (Figs. 8 ). Deposits of “terminal” distributary channels are potentially important in defining heterogeneities in delta-front deposits because they are formed mainly from clean sands, like mouth-bar deposits, but have a more or less channel-shaped geometry. “Terminal” distributary channels are also important because they control sediment distribution in the delta front and, in general, delta progradation and facies architecture, inasmuch as these represent the source of sediment to the delta system.

Fig. 11.

A) Three-dimensional view of surfaces built in GoCad based on strike-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data in Area 1 (Figure 1). Horizontally oriented surfaces are interpolated between radar reflectors and digital model of the outcrop. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. B) Detailed view of mapped surfaces. On the interpreted surface, the yellow line outlines negative topography (channels), and white line outlines positive topography (mouth bars).

Fig. 11.

A) Three-dimensional view of surfaces built in GoCad based on strike-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data in Area 1 (Figure 1). Horizontally oriented surfaces are interpolated between radar reflectors and digital model of the outcrop. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. B) Detailed view of mapped surfaces. On the interpreted surface, the yellow line outlines negative topography (channels), and white line outlines positive topography (mouth bars).

Upstream Accretion

Upstream accretion was also observed on Panther Tongue deposits on a cliff parallel to the paleoflow (Figs. 1, 9). In flume experiments, upstream accretion has been related to channel avulsion and migration (Ashworth et al., 2001). Upstream accretion of bars has also been observed in the modern Atchafalaya delta using successive aerial photos (van Heerden and Roberts, 1988). The only description of upstream accretion of bars in ancient deposits is by Corbeanu (2001) in delta-plain channels and in distributary-mouth bars (with synsedimentary growth faults) in the Cretaceous Ferron Sandstone in Utah (Bhattacharya and Davies, 2001). In the growth-faulted example, there is some question as to whether the upstream accretion was related to infilling of sand as a consequence of hanging-wall rotation or as a consequence of loss of discharge at the terminus of the distributary channel. Although not well documented, the modern examples suggest that upstream accretion should be quite common in the delta front, and especially in “terminal” distributary channels (van Heerden and Roberts, 1988). Observations on flume experiments and modern examples of upstream accretion were described from subaerially exposed deposits; the distinction of Panther Tongue upstream accretion is that the mouth-bar deposits were formed subaqueously, in shallow water.

Fig. 12.

A) Strike-oriented and B) dip-oriented 50 MHz GPR lines at the top of Panther Tongue sandstone cliffs; for location see Figure 1.

Fig. 12.

A) Strike-oriented and B) dip-oriented 50 MHz GPR lines at the top of Panther Tongue sandstone cliffs; for location see Figure 1.

Hyperpycnal Flows

Graded beds are extremely common in the Panther Tongue exposures at other locations, which were interpreted to be farther into the basin. The presence of fining-upward facies succession of Bouma-like beds, in proximal delta-front deposits, suggests a depositional process similar to turbidity currents. Conditions similar to deep-water turbidity currents are formed when highly turbid river water plunges as a hyperpycnal flow below the basin water (Mulder and Syvitski, 1995). Deposits of hyperpycnal flows in the Panther Tongue delta are indicated by the presence of fining-up successions, but these delta-front turbidites can be differentiated from deep-water turbidites by the extreme thickness of structureless beds and by amalgamation of the beds. These differences are inferred to be related mainly to flood flow conditions.

Delta-Front Architecture

The presence of “terminal” distributary channels and up-stream-accretion bars in delta-front deposits suggests that delta formation is more complicated than a simple seaward progradation of bars, as is most commonly assumed in subsurface studies of delta-front deposits (e.g., Ainsworth et al., 1999; Tye et al., 1999). The present outcrop-scale study describes heterogeneities with an order of magnitude smaller than are generally described in large-scale subsurface delta studies (e.g., Ainsworth et al., 1999; Tye et al., 1999). Our study suggests that facies architecture of delta fronts can be complicated and that bedding surfaces may dip both downstream and upstream, especially in the proximal river-influenced delta front. The geometries of surfaces which are described in Panther Tongue delta front, with channelized features and upstream-dipping beds, are at a scale of tens to hundreds of meters and build in periods of years to tens of years. These might be superimposed over overall basin-dipping clinoforms which can be kilometers to tens of kilometers long and build in hundreds to thousands of years. However, in the area of a proximal river-influenced delta front that builds into a shallow-water basin, as the Panther Tongue delta is interpreted, the delta is not expected to have steep clinoforms but rather shallow channels and upstream-accreting beds. This architecture potentially needs to be incorporated into more representative 3-D facies architectural models of delta-front deposits and may have important implications for how and where sediment is sequestered in deltaic sedimentary sinks. The new data set of this study is represented by a digital model of the outcrop, which allows an accurate construction of the 3D architecture of deposits. The 3-D shape and relationships between “terminal” distributaries and associated mouth-bar deposits were used to build a 3-D sedimentary (facies architecture) model of delta-front deposits. 3-D sedimentary surfaces of Panther Tongue deposits based on the data collected imply that aggradation of delta-front deposits has a lateral migration component as well. As expected, surfaces and deposits behind the outcrop (the GPR line) do not have exactly the same geometries as the outcrop data. Mapped surfaces show that the topography decreases laterally (Fig. 11B), away from channel axis. The 3-D outcrop studies documented here can also be used to extract quantitative data for understanding the relative proportion of processes occurring in delta-front areas, such as aggradation, lateral migration, switching of the “terminal” distributary channel location, upstream accretion, or erosion.

Fig. 13.

—Three-dimensional view of surfaces built on the basis of dip-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data, Area 2 in Figure 1. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. Mapped surfaces are inclined in the upstream direction with approximately 12° dip relative to present horizontal; this value represents 2-3° relative to paleohorizontal.

Fig. 13.

—Three-dimensional view of surfaces built on the basis of dip-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data, Area 2 in Figure 1. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. Mapped surfaces are inclined in the upstream direction with approximately 12° dip relative to present horizontal; this value represents 2-3° relative to paleohorizontal.

Conclusions

  1. Ground-penetrating radar used with photorealistic techniques is a powerful tool for the study of the outcrops, providing 3D models suitable for quantitative studies. The novel 3-D photorealistic methods do not deal with distortion as on 2-D photomosaics and allow measurement of 3-D quantitative data. In this study, the 3-D model is built on the basis of photorealistic and GPR data, but in some areas with narrow canyons or more continuous beds, only photorealistic models might be used.

  2. In the proximal delta-front deposits of the Panther Tongue sandstone, four main lithofacies were differentiated: massive sandstone, parallel-laminated sandstone, rippled heterolithics, and bioturbated heterolithics. Three sub-areas where different sedimentary processes are predominant, “terminal” distributary channel, upstream-accreting bars, and distal bar, were also distinguished. The lithofacies interpretation support the interpretation of a river-influenced delta formed into a shallow-water basin with relatively limited basin energy.

  3. The fining-upward facies succession suggests sediment gravity flows, which for the Panther Tongue were interpreted to be formed during hyperpycnal flood events. Gravity flows and common hyperpycnal flows in the Panther Tongue delta were responsible for the existence of multiple shallow channelized features, named “terminal” distributary channels in this paper.

  4. For the first time, “terminal” distributary channels and upstream-accreting mouth bars are described from ancient delta-front deposits. These are similar to modern features but are more difficult to document in ancient deposits because the high degree of heterogeneity and the complex geometry of deposits.

  5. The geometry of “terminal” distributary channels from proximal delta-front deposits of the Panther Tongue deposits from Spring Canyon-Sow Belly Gulch area was mapped in 3-D. On 3-D surfaces, elongated channels with NE-SW direction (consistent with paleocurrent measurements) were distinguished. In 3-D, landward-inclined surfaces show a change in strike orientation but a relative constant inclination of 2-3° relative to paleohorizontal.

  6. Upstream accretion of mouth bars is documented for the first time in ancient delta-front deposits, but it was described on modern and ancient alluvial bars as well as on modern mouth bars.

  7. Mapped 3-D surfaces show that “terminal” distributary channels and mouth-bar deposits have surfaces with maximum topography of 4-5 m and 1-2 m, respectively; these indicate that proximal delta-front deposits are not represented only by seaward sheets of sands (clinoforms) but also contain channelized features.

  8. In a proximal delta front, facies architecture is more complicated than just seaward-dipping clinoforms, with both seaward-dipping and landward-dipping beds as well as shallow “terminal” distributary channels. It is possible, despite overall seaward-dipping clinoforms at large (basin) scale, for landward-dipping beds and channelized features to be superimposed over clinoforms at smaller (outcrop) scale.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge reviewers Gary Hampson and Liviu Giosan for improving the manuscript and for fruitful comments. The project was supported by funds provided by British Petroleum and Chevron-Texaco. Funds for field work were provided to CO by the Geological Society of America foundation and the Colorado Scientific Society as graduate grants. CO also thanks Rui Ge, Bobby Neubert, and Fanny D. Marcy for field assistance. This paper is Contribution 1046 from the Department of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Figures & Tables

Fig. 1.

.—Outcrop belt of Panther Tongue Sandstone (modified after Howard, 1966), and location of data collected in Spring Canyon area.

Fig. 1.

.—Outcrop belt of Panther Tongue Sandstone (modified after Howard, 1966), and location of data collected in Spring Canyon area.

Fig. 2.

—Stratigraphic relations of Upper Cretaceous rocks in east-central Utah (modified after Young, 1955, and Weimer, 1960)

Fig. 2.

—Stratigraphic relations of Upper Cretaceous rocks in east-central Utah (modified after Young, 1955, and Weimer, 1960)

Fig. 3.

—Paleoshoreline during early Campanian (modified after Williams and Stelck, 1975).

Fig. 3.

—Paleoshoreline during early Campanian (modified after Williams and Stelck, 1975).

Fig. 4.

—Major steps in collection of data for photorealistic outcrop model.

Fig. 4.

—Major steps in collection of data for photorealistic outcrop model.

Fig. 5.

Fig. 5.—A) Data-processing steps for building the digital outcrop model. B) Detailed view of raw points and the GoCad™ terrain surface of the outcrop. The blue dots represent raw data points, and the line from surface to the points represents the constraint direction. C) Pinpoint principle of coordinate translation from x, y, z to u, v (modified after Xu, 2000 ).

Fig. 5.

Fig. 5.—A) Data-processing steps for building the digital outcrop model. B) Detailed view of raw points and the GoCad™ terrain surface of the outcrop. The blue dots represent raw data points, and the line from surface to the points represents the constraint direction. C) Pinpoint principle of coordinate translation from x, y, z to u, v (modified after Xu, 2000 ).

Fig. 6.

—Lithofacies photos: A) Massive sandstone with drag casts overlie bioturbated heterolithic bed, B) alternation of massive sandstone with rippled heterolithic beds, C) cross-laminated sandstone.Lithofacies photos: D) patches of intense bioturbation in massive and parallel-laminated sandstone, E) Ophiomorpha nodosa in parallel-laminated sandstone, F) Massive sandstone with Ophiomorpha, parallel-laminated beds overlain by rippled heterolithic deposits.Lithofacies photos: G) Hummocky cross stratification at the top and structureless sandstone with Ophiomorpha at the base, H) Highly bioturbated heterolithic beds with organic matter laminae, Skolithos, and Planolites, I) Teredolites at the base of massive sandstone.

Fig. 6.

—Lithofacies photos: A) Massive sandstone with drag casts overlie bioturbated heterolithic bed, B) alternation of massive sandstone with rippled heterolithic beds, C) cross-laminated sandstone.Lithofacies photos: D) patches of intense bioturbation in massive and parallel-laminated sandstone, E) Ophiomorpha nodosa in parallel-laminated sandstone, F) Massive sandstone with Ophiomorpha, parallel-laminated beds overlain by rippled heterolithic deposits.Lithofacies photos: G) Hummocky cross stratification at the top and structureless sandstone with Ophiomorpha at the base, H) Highly bioturbated heterolithic beds with organic matter laminae, Skolithos, and Planolites, I) Teredolites at the base of massive sandstone.

Fig. 7.

—Characteristic vertical measured section (no. 10) through proximal delta-front deposits of Panther Tongue sandstone. For location see Figure 1, Area 1; the legend is the same as Figure 8.

Fig. 7.

—Characteristic vertical measured section (no. 10) through proximal delta-front deposits of Panther Tongue sandstone. For location see Figure 1, Area 1; the legend is the same as Figure 8.

Fig. 8.

A) Strike-oriented 2-D photomosaic, B) bedding diagram, C) measured sections, and D) mapped facies of terminal distributary channels, located in Figure 1, Area 1. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections.

Lithofacies 2, parallel-laminated sandstone, has a gradual transition, vertically and horizontally, with lithofacies 1. Toward the bases of the studied cliff faces, beds of lithofacies 2 alternate with lithofacies 3 and lithofacies 4 deposits. Lithofacies 3 and 4, interpreted as deposited in a mouth-bar environment at relatively low discharge, decrease in occurrence toward the top of the succession, indicating delta progradation.

Fig. 8.

A) Strike-oriented 2-D photomosaic, B) bedding diagram, C) measured sections, and D) mapped facies of terminal distributary channels, located in Figure 1, Area 1. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections.

Lithofacies 2, parallel-laminated sandstone, has a gradual transition, vertically and horizontally, with lithofacies 1. Toward the bases of the studied cliff faces, beds of lithofacies 2 alternate with lithofacies 3 and lithofacies 4 deposits. Lithofacies 3 and 4, interpreted as deposited in a mouth-bar environment at relatively low discharge, decrease in occurrence toward the top of the succession, indicating delta progradation.

Fig. 9.

—A) Dip-oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of upstream aggrading mouth bar deposits; for location see Figure 1, Area 2; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections shown in Part 9C.(C) Correlated measured sections through aggrading mouth-bar deposits and D) dip-oriented facies and bedding diagram; for location see Figure 1, Area 2 and Part A and B; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Fig. 9.

—A) Dip-oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of upstream aggrading mouth bar deposits; for location see Figure 1, Area 2; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the location of the vertical measured sections shown in Part 9C.(C) Correlated measured sections through aggrading mouth-bar deposits and D) dip-oriented facies and bedding diagram; for location see Figure 1, Area 2 and Part A and B; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Fig. 10.

—A) Oblique oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the locations of the vertical measured sections.(C) Measured sections and D) mapped facies through distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3 and Part A; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Fig. 10.

—A) Oblique oriented 2-D photomosaic and B) bedding diagram of distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3; legend is the same as in Figure 8. Numbers along the top of the photomosaic indicate the locations of the vertical measured sections.(C) Measured sections and D) mapped facies through distal bars; for location see Figure 1, Area 3 and Part A; legend is the same as in Figure 8.

Fig. 11.

A) Three-dimensional view of surfaces built in GoCad based on strike-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data in Area 1 (Figure 1). Horizontally oriented surfaces are interpolated between radar reflectors and digital model of the outcrop. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. B) Detailed view of mapped surfaces. On the interpreted surface, the yellow line outlines negative topography (channels), and white line outlines positive topography (mouth bars).

Fig. 11.

A) Three-dimensional view of surfaces built in GoCad based on strike-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data in Area 1 (Figure 1). Horizontally oriented surfaces are interpolated between radar reflectors and digital model of the outcrop. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. B) Detailed view of mapped surfaces. On the interpreted surface, the yellow line outlines negative topography (channels), and white line outlines positive topography (mouth bars).

Fig. 12.

A) Strike-oriented and B) dip-oriented 50 MHz GPR lines at the top of Panther Tongue sandstone cliffs; for location see Figure 1.

Fig. 12.

A) Strike-oriented and B) dip-oriented 50 MHz GPR lines at the top of Panther Tongue sandstone cliffs; for location see Figure 1.

Fig. 13.

—Three-dimensional view of surfaces built on the basis of dip-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data, Area 2 in Figure 1. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. Mapped surfaces are inclined in the upstream direction with approximately 12° dip relative to present horizontal; this value represents 2-3° relative to paleohorizontal.

Fig. 13.

—Three-dimensional view of surfaces built on the basis of dip-oriented digital outcrop and GPR data, Area 2 in Figure 1. Different colors represent different interpreted surfaces. Mapped surfaces are inclined in the upstream direction with approximately 12° dip relative to present horizontal; this value represents 2-3° relative to paleohorizontal.

Table 1.

Equipment used for photorealistic acquisition and technical characteristics.

Leica 500 GPS Systems Used in Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Stop and Go mode. Accuracy 1-2 cm. 
MDL Laser ACE System, MDL Laser Atlanta System Three-dimensional robotic laser scanning systems. Acquire relative positions from different surface types without the need of a prism. Range is 300 m and accuracy 5 cm. 
Topcon GPT 1002 Reflectorless total station. In reflectorless mode has a range of 80 meters and 1 cm accuracy. 
Fuji S1 Pro Professional digital camera with a maximum resolution of 3040 X 2016 pixels. Different Nikon lenses (35 mm, 50 mm, 135 mm) can be attached to the body. 
 
Leica 500 GPS Systems Used in Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Stop and Go mode. Accuracy 1-2 cm. 
MDL Laser ACE System, MDL Laser Atlanta System Three-dimensional robotic laser scanning systems. Acquire relative positions from different surface types without the need of a prism. Range is 300 m and accuracy 5 cm. 
Topcon GPT 1002 Reflectorless total station. In reflectorless mode has a range of 80 meters and 1 cm accuracy. 
Fuji S1 Pro Professional digital camera with a maximum resolution of 3040 X 2016 pixels. Different Nikon lenses (35 mm, 50 mm, 135 mm) can be attached to the body. 
 
Table 2.

Lithofacies description for proximal delta-front deposits of the Panther Tongue sandstonein the Spring Canyon-Sow Belly Gulch area.

Lihofacies Lithology Thickness Physical structures Bio-structures Environment 
Lithofacies 1: Massive sandstone 
Fine to medium sandstone Decimeter to 5 meters Structureless; relatively common scours; rare large (dm to meter) trough cross bedding; rare scours; rare mud rip-up clasts Burrows uncommon, but within scours or at the top of beds can be highly bioturbated; Ophiomorha and Teredolites were identified; extremely rare shell fragments "Terminal" distributary channel or mouth bar 
Lithofacies 2: Parallel-laminatedsandstone Fine to medium sandstone Usually less than 1 meter; rare thicker than 1 cm Horizontal parallel stratification; rare hummocky cross stratification; common tool marks Rare to common Ophiomorpha, Skolithos, Teredolites clavatus, and Teredolites longissimus Mouth bar or "terminal" distributary channel 
Lithofacies 3: Rippledheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Common 5-10 cm; extremely rare over 20 cm In both sandstone and siltstone: asymmetric current ripples; rare symmetric ripples; rare parallel lamination Rare Planolites, Skolithos, Teichichnus; Rare organic matter (coal fragments) in cm-thick laminae Mouth bar 
Lithofacies 4: Bioturbatedheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Usually 5-10 cm; rare over 20 cm Almost structureless; rare distinguishable ripples or parallel lamination Highly bioturbated, Planolites, Skolithos, Paleophycus, Thalassinoides, Teichichnus, Cylindrichnus Relatively common coal fragments and cm-thick beds of organic matter Distal mouth bar or proximal mouth bar during low-discharge periods 
 
Lihofacies Lithology Thickness Physical structures Bio-structures Environment 
Lithofacies 1: Massive sandstone 
Fine to medium sandstone Decimeter to 5 meters Structureless; relatively common scours; rare large (dm to meter) trough cross bedding; rare scours; rare mud rip-up clasts Burrows uncommon, but within scours or at the top of beds can be highly bioturbated; Ophiomorha and Teredolites were identified; extremely rare shell fragments "Terminal" distributary channel or mouth bar 
Lithofacies 2: Parallel-laminatedsandstone Fine to medium sandstone Usually less than 1 meter; rare thicker than 1 cm Horizontal parallel stratification; rare hummocky cross stratification; common tool marks Rare to common Ophiomorpha, Skolithos, Teredolites clavatus, and Teredolites longissimus Mouth bar or "terminal" distributary channel 
Lithofacies 3: Rippledheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Common 5-10 cm; extremely rare over 20 cm In both sandstone and siltstone: asymmetric current ripples; rare symmetric ripples; rare parallel lamination Rare Planolites, Skolithos, Teichichnus; Rare organic matter (coal fragments) in cm-thick laminae Mouth bar 
Lithofacies 4: Bioturbatedheterolithics Very fine to fine sandstone interbedded with gray siltstone Usually 5-10 cm; rare over 20 cm Almost structureless; rare distinguishable ripples or parallel lamination Highly bioturbated, Planolites, Skolithos, Paleophycus, Thalassinoides, Teichichnus, Cylindrichnus Relatively common coal fragments and cm-thick beds of organic matter Distal mouth bar or proximal mouth bar during low-discharge periods 
 

Contents

SEPM Special Publication

River Deltas–Concepts, Models, and Examples

Liviu Giosan
Liviu Giosan
Search for other works by this author on:
Janok P. Bhattacharya
Janok P. Bhattacharya
Search for other works by this author on:
SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology
Volume
83
ISBN electronic:
9781565762190
Publication date:
January 01, 2005

GeoRef

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