Abstract

The floodplain deposits of the Wealden Group (Lower Cretaceous) of the Isle of Wight, southern England, were formed in a seasonal wetland setting, a type of environment widespread today along higher-order tropical and subtropical river systems but rarely identified in the geological record. The unit consists of four main lithofacies: sheet sandstones with dinosaur footprint casts; green-gray mudstones with vertebrate remains, abundant lignite, pyrite, and siderite; spectacularly color-mottled mudstones with goethite and locally pseudo-anticlines; and red mudstones with pseudo-anticlines, hematite, and carbonate nodules. The sheet sandstones are interpreted as crevasse deposits; the green-gray mudstones were deposited in shallow ponds on the floodplain, which acted as sinks for debris released by local floods following wildfires; the mottled mudstones represent surface-water gley soils formed in seasonally waterlogged areas; and the red mudstones resemble present-day Vertisols that formed on topographically elevated areas only intermittently flooded. These mudstones show vertical transitions from one to another, and although they could be interpreted as components of simple catenas, the absence of associated facies changes implies that topographic differences were not the only control. It is proposed that these three mudstone types formed as seasonal wetland catenas, in which differences in soil drainage conditions resulted from variations in the flooding hydroperiod affecting areas with minor relief differences, rather than drainage variability simply reflecting static topographic differences. Such seasonal wetland systems are rarely documented in the stratigraphic record despite being a widespread environment in present-day tropical regions, and the Wealden deposits are used to identify criteria for the recognition of this important environment in the rock record. These southern English wetlands are compared with other Lower Cretaceous wetlands from northern Spain, enabling hydrological factors which controlled deposition to be recognized.

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