Lower Cretaceous nonmarine rocks throughout Wyoming have been used to date movements on major thrusts during the Sevier orogeny, evaluate the sedimentary response in the adjacent foreland basin, reconstruct subsidence histories, evaluate the driving mechanisms of that subsidence, and have been applied to basin modeling studies. However, detailed correlation and dating of these strata have been problematic for a century, making most detailed interpretations equivocal. New age data and correlations presented here have important implications for the evolution of the Sevier orogen and controls on basin filling.
Lower Cretaceous strata in Wyoming show the former existence of a foreland basin fill that displays a thick foredeep depozone to the west (the Gannett Group), a thin forebulge depozone throughout central Wyoming (the Cloverly Formation), and thickening into a backbulge depozone in the Black Hills area to the east (the Lakota Formation). Basin subsidence is attributable not only to orogenic loading, but to dynamic loading as well.
New data and correlations indicate that a thrust load was in place during the Neocomian (attributable to movement on the Paris-Willard thrust system) and that sediment supply was high (as represented by the upper Ephraim Formation). Subsequent deposition of the Peterson Limestone in the foredeep during the latest Neocomian and Aptian, and the development of a regional unconformity elsewhere, indicate a reduction in sediment supply that may have been caused by (1) a change to a drier climate, possibly related to progressive mountain-belt uplift and development or intensification of an orographic rain shadow, or (2) a decrease in mountain-belt uplift rate and a reduction in mountain-belt relief. Unconformity development on the forebulge is consistent with the first scenario. Subsequent deposition of the Bechler, upper Cloverly, and upper Lakota Formations during the Early to Middle Albian indicates increased sediment supply, progressive unroofing of the mountain belt, and movement on the Meade-Laketown-Paris-Willard thrust system. These events suggest renewed or accelerated mountain-belt uplift during the early to middle Albian. The Draney Limestone, which overlies the Bechler, correlates with an unconformity at the top of the Cloverly and Lakota Formations and is Albian in age. The Draney Limestone and the unconformity signify a return to conditions similar to those that existed during deposition of the Peterson Limestone. The results presented here differ from those of some researchers who contend that a fore-deep did not exist during initial deposition of these strata, and that deposition was not coincident with thrusting during early stages of the Sevier orogeny.