Abstract

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is used to delineate the 3-D facies architectural elements and examine the evolution of a top-truncated, forced-regressive, mixed-influenced delta front in the Cretaceous Wall Creek Member of the Frontier Formation, Wyoming. The GPR data provide a bridge between outcrop facies architecture and recently published high-resolution 2-D seismic studies of Quaternary delta systems. The GPR data were integrated with outcrops, photomosaics, cores, and GPS data. Two orthogonal grids of 2-D GPR profiles provide information on the 3-D facies architecture and stratigraphy of the deltaic deposits. Three main GPR architectural elements are identified within the delta front: (1) mouth bars are characterized by seaward-dipping reflections (foreset beds) in dip view, and mounded bidirectionally downlapping reflections in strike view; (2) shallow delta-slope channels show truncation and onlap and also show low-angle landward (northwest) dipping reflections. The mouth bars are locally interrupted by (3) sub-horizontal radar reflections that are interpreted as tidally modulated bars. Within the mouth-bar radar facies, both top-preserved (proximal) and top-truncated (distal) examples are observed. Top-preserved proximal bars show evidence of mounded bar crests and landward accretion, as is observed in the upstream end of mouth bars on the modern Atchafalaya Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. Distal bar deposits primarily comprise the top-truncated, seaward-dipping foresets.

The GPR interpretation shows two laterally overlapping delta lobes, interpreted to represent autocyclic delta switching. The older lower lobe forms a fan-shaped delta lobe composed of top-truncated coalesced mouth bars. The second phase of bars is largely top-preserved, building over the older bars. The presence of thicker bedsets and upstream accretion suggests that the younger lobe was quickly abandoned, as seen in the overlying transgressive ravinement. Although marine erosion during transgression was less effective on these later-stage bar deposits, ravinement increased landward. A comparison of the architectural elements at a more regional scale in two separate Wall Creek delta lobes (Murphy Creek and Raptor Ridge, ~ 30 km apart) indicates that the bar complexes were deposited on the delta fronts as accretionary forced-regressive deposits during a relative sea-level fall; the older river-dominated deltaic deposits at the Murphy Creek site prograded southeastward (~ 124°), whereas the younger and more tidally influenced Raptor Ridge bar deposits expanded southward (~ 171°) before final abandonment and regional transgression. The most distal lowstand lobe sediments within the offlapping parasequence at Raptor Ridge are more completely preserved and also show the greatest tidal influence, compared to the more severely top-truncated Murphy Creek, which is in an otherwise more landward location. This challenges the notion that tidal facies are predominantly associated with transgressive or highstand systems tracts. Greater preservation of deltaic facies in forced-regressive and lowstand deltas, as shown here, has also been documented in Quaternary shelf-edge deltas, such as the Lagniappe in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mahakham in Kalimantan.

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