An integrated geochemical-sedimentological project is studying the paleoclimatic and paleogeographic characteristics of the mid-Cretaceous greenhouse world of western North America. A critical part of this project, required to establish a temporal framework, is a stratigraphic study of depositional relationships between the Albian-Cenomanian Dakota and the Upper Albian Kiowa formations of the eastern margin of the Western Interior Seaway (WIS). Palynostratigraphic and sedimentologic analyses provide criteria for the Dakota Formation to be divided into three sedimentary sequences bounded by unconformities (D0, D1, and D2) that are recognized from western Iowa to westernmost Kansas. The lowest of these sequences, defined by unconformities D0 and D1, is entirely Upper Albian, and includes the largely nonmarine basal Dakota (lower part of the Nishnabotna Member) strata in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska and the marine Kiowa Formation to the southwest in Kansas. The gravel-rich fluvial deposits of the basal part of the Nishnabotna Member of the Dakota Formation correlate with transgressive marine shales of the Kiowa Formation. This is a critical relationship to establish because of the need to correlate between marine and nonmarine strata that contain both geochronologic and paleoclimatic proxy data.
The basal gravel facies (up to 40 m thick in western Iowa) aggraded in incised valleys during the Late Albian Kiowa-Skull Creek marine transgression. In southeastern Nebraska, basal gravels intertongue with carbonaceous mudrocks that contain diverse assemblages of Late Albian palynomorphs, including marine dinoflagellates and acritarchs. This palynomorph assemblage is characterized by occurrences of palynomorph taxa not known to range above the Albian Kiowa-Skull Creek depositional cycle elsewhere in the Western Interior, and correlates to the lowest of four generalized palynostratographic units that are comparable to other palynological sequences elsewhere in North America.
Tidal rhythmites in mudrocks at the Ash Grove Cement Quarry in Louisville (Cass County), Nebraska record well-developed diurnal and semimonthly tidal cycles, and moderately well developed semiannual cycles. These tidal rhythmites are interpreted to have accumulated during rising sea level at the head of a paleoestuary that experienced at least occasional mesotidal conditions. This scenario places the gravel-bearing lower part of the Nishnabotna Member of the Dakota Formation in the mouth of an incised valley of an Upper Albian transgressive systems tract deposited along a tidally influenced coast. Furthermore, it provides a depositional setting consistent with the biostratigraphic correlation of the lower part of the Nishnabotna Member of the Dakota Formation to the marine Kiowa Formation of Kansas.