Abstract: 

Most outcrops of fluvial deposits consist of a series of cliff exposures, either natural or manmade (e.g., roadcuts). Predictions, and especially observation of plan-form geometry, such as might be made with numerical experiments or from studies of modern rivers, are challenging to test in most ancient outcrops. This study examines ancient exhumed channel belts from the Cretaceous Notom Delta of the Ferron Sandstone Member in south-central Utah. Extensive plan-view exposures with local vertical cliff exposures allowed documentation of channel plan-form, channel-belt dimension, bar migration patterns (translation versus expansion), and cross-sectional facies architecture. Channel-fill thickness and bedding structure, documented from the cliff exposures, were used in paleohydraulic reconstructions. Approximately 270 paleocurrent directions were integrated with grain-size measurements to reconstruct the 3D facies architecture. Paleocurrent measurements are consistent within specific facies architectural units (such as unit bars) and show systematic variation at the channel-belt scale that can be used to infer channel and bar migration patterns. In this example, the migration pattern of the single-thread channel bend was interpreted to change from expansion to translation with a corresponding bend sinuosity that increased from 1.01 to 1.44. Inclined large-scale foresets are interpreted to be indicative of unit bars. Empirical equations result in estimated average channel depths from 1.7 m to 3.6 m with corresponding widths of 23 m to 89 m respectively. These empirical estimates match the dimensions measured in the field. For example, channel widths of around 50 m were measured from abandoned channel fills. Bar thickness, measured from vertical outcrops, ranges from 5.4 m to 6.3 m, which yields a narrower estimate of channel width ranging from 47 to 59 m. Integration of sediment size, bedforms type, and channel depth were used to estimate the discharge of the river, which is on the order of < 400 m3/s. This suggests that the Ferron deltas were characterized by small, steep-gradient “dirty” rivers, which is consistent with the hyperpycnal nature of linked downstream deltaic systems.

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