Abstract

The lower Eocene Willwood Formation of the Bighorn Basin, northwest Wyoming, consists of about 770 m of alluvial rocks that exhibit extensive mechanical and geochemical modifications resulting from Eocene pedogenesis. Willwood paleosols vary considerably in their relative degrees of maturity; maturity is defined as stage of development as a function of the amount of time required to form. Five arbitrary stages are proposed to distinguish these soils of different maturities in the Willwood Formation. Stage 1 soils, the least mature, are entisols; stage 2 and stage 3 soils are intermediate in maturity and are probably alfisols; and stage 4 and stage 5 soils, the most mature, are spodosols. These stages are not only time-progressive elements of an in situ maturation sequence for Willwood soil formation, but, in the lateral dimension, they are also usually distributed sequentially. Study of Willwood paleosols indicates that an inverse relationship exists between soil maturity and short-term sediment accumulation rate. The least mature Willwood paleosols formed in areas of relatively high net rates of sediment accumulation on 1) channel, levee, and crevasse-splay sediments of the proximal alluvial ridge, and 2) deposits filling large and small paleovalleys formed by major episodes of gullying (lowered baselevels). In contrast, the fine-grained sediments of the distal floodplain, where net sediment accumulation rates were relatively low, experienced development of much more mature soils. Soils of intermediate maturities occur in the order of their stage on intervening proximal floodplain and distal alluvial ridge sediments. Adjacent bodies of sedimentary rock that differ in their ancient soil properties because of distance from areas of relatively high sediment accumulation are denoted by the new term pedofacies . The remarkable sequence of paleosols in the Willwood Formation clearly illustrates several important principles of soil-sediment interrelationships in aggrading alluvial systems that have broad application to other deposits. This is especially true in view of the widespread distribution of paleosols in nearly all ancient fluvial rocks. Further study of Willwood paleosols will not only enable precise lateral correlation of coeval alluvial sediments, and thereby fluvial sedimentary events, from the distal to the proximal realms of the floodplain but will also contribute to increasingly informative evaluations of the nature, tempo, and mode of alluvial succession.

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