Abstract

Accumulations of logs and flood sediment frequently block modern channels and may trigger avulsion, but these effects are difficult to demonstrate for the ancient record. Braided-fluvial channels in the Pennsylvanian South Bar Formation of Atlantic Canada contain sandstone successions up to 6 m thick of sigmoidal cross-beds, plane beds, and antidunes, deposited rapidly at high-flow-stage. These strata are commonly capped by accumulations up to 2.5 m thick of flattened, coalified logs and coal intraclasts (originally peat fragments), many of which are overlain by mudstone laid down in abandoned channels. The logs include lycopsids, calamiteans, tree ferns, pteridosperms and cordaitaleans, inferred to have grown on inactive braided tracts near the channels. A compaction estimate suggests that one log accumulation was originally more than four times its present thickness. Most accumulations are interpreted as stable “transport log jams” formed during floods, although some may have been “unstable jams” stranded on bars during peak-flow recession. Associated with the logs are extrabasinal gravel and intraclasts of mudstone and coal, which suggest that floods in sediment-choked channels undercut banks of gravelly sand capped by mud and forested peat, widened the channels, and toppled riparian vegetation. An estimated blockage ratio of 8% for one accumulation (ratio of the cross-sectional areas of the log jam and host channel) is close to the 10% value considered to cause substantial blockage in some modern rivers. In two instances, a radical change in paleoflow between pre- and post-abandonment channels is consistent with an interpretation that log jams and flood sediment buildup promoted channel-belt avulsion. Although large trees had evolved by Middle to Late Devonian times, it is unlikely that riparian plants occurred in stands that were sufficiently dense to exert a major influence on river dynamics until the Pennsylvanian. Thus, we report some of the earliest evidence for the effects of woody debris on ancient fluvial systems.

You do not currently have access to this article.