Fluvial systems represent a key component in source-to-sink analysis of ancient sediment-dispersal systems. Modern river channels and channel-related deposits possess a range of scaling relationships that reflect drainage-basin controls on water and sediment flux. For example, channel-belt sand-body thicknesses scale to bankfull discharge, and represent a reliable first-order proxy for contributing drainage-basin area, a proxy that is more robust if climatic regimes can be independently constrained. A database of morphometrics from Quaternary channel belts provides key modern fluvial system scaling relationships, which are applied to Cretaceous- to Paleocene-age fluvial deposits. This study documents the scales of channel-belt sand bodies within fluvial successions from the northern Gulf of Mexico passive-margin basin fill from well logs, and uses scaling relationships developed from modern systems to reconstruct the scale of associated sediment-routing systems and changes in scale through time.
We measured thicknesses of 986 channel-belt sand bodies from 248 well logs so as to estimate the scales of the Cretaceous (Cenomanian) Tuscaloosa-Woodbine, Paleocene–early Eocene Wilcox, and Oligocene Vicksburg-Frio fluvial systems. These data indicate that Cenozoic fluvial systems were significantly larger than their Cenomanian counterparts, which is consistent with Cretaceous to Paleocene continental-scale drainage reorganization that routed water discharge and sediment from much of the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico. At a more detailed level, Paleocene–early Eocene Wilcox fluvial systems were larger than their Oligocene counterparts, which could reflect decreases in drainage-basin size and/or climatic change within the continental interior toward drier climates with less runoff. Additionally, these data suggest that the paleo–Tennessee River, which now joins the Ohio River in the northernmost Mississippi embayment of the central United States, was an independent fluvial system, flowing southwest to the southern Mississippi embayment, or directly to the Gulf of Mexico, through the early Eocene.