Cretaceous deltaic sandstones of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska exhibit an extreme variability in their mineral make-up. A series of numerical techniques, however, provides some order to the petrographic characteristics of these complex rocks. Ten mineral constituents occur in the sandstones, including quartz, chert, feldspar, mica, and organic matter, plus rock fragments of volcanics, carbonates, shale, phyllite, and schist. A mixing coefficient quantifies the degree of heterogeneity in each sample. Hierarchical cluster analysis then groups sandstones on the basis of similarities among all ten mineral components--in the Alaskan example, six groupings characterized mainly by the different rock fragments. Multidimensional scaling shows how the clusters relate to one another and arranges them along compositional gradients-two trends in Alaska based on varying proportions of metamorphic/volcanic and shale/carbonate rock fragments. The resulting sandstone clusters and petrographic gradients can be mapped across the study area and compared with the stratigraphic section. This study confirms the presence of three different source areas that provided diverse sediment to the Cretaceous deltas as well as the general transport directions and distances. In addition, the sand composition is shown to have changed over time, probably related to erosional unroofing in the source areas. This combination of multivariate-analysis techniques proves to be a powerful tool, revealing subtle spatial and temporal relationships among the sandstones and allowing us to enhance provenance and paleogeographic conclusions made from compositional data.

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