Thirty-two tephra layers, exposed in coal beds of the Miocene and Pliocene Beluga and Sterling Formations along the shores of the Kenai lowland on the northwestern Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, were studied in detail to improve the geochronology and regional correlation of the Sterling Formation and test prior correlations that were based on palynology and physical tracing of beds over short distances. Published radiogenic isotope data suggest an age span of ∼4 m.y. for the Sterling Formation at this location but give discordant ages for individual samples depending on dating techniques.
A crystal-rich tephra layer near the middle of the section was traced across the Kenai lowland as one or two ash falls based on stratigraphic position, inertinite contents of adjacent coal, geochemical and mineralogical analyses, and individual characteristics. A pumice-rich layer deposited near the top of the Sterling Formation is preserved at two localities on the northwestern and southeastern sides of the Kenai lowland. Geochemical similarities, similar glass morphologies, and an absence of opaque phases characterize this layer as a single ash fall and allow correlation. On a regional scale, these correlations concur with previous correlations and show that a shallow anticline with a northwest-southeast–trending axis extends across the Kenai lowland.