Palustrine deposits in coastal environments can cover thousands of square kilometers and are stratigraphically important. Palustrine deposits that originated in supratidal marshes can be used to track shifts in the shoreline position, whereas palustrine deposits that formed in marshes above the peritidal realm are indicative of subaerial unconformities. Despite the importance of these deposits, there are few documented examples of ancient coastal palustrine deposits, and their sedimentary attributes remain poorly understood. Misinterpretation of coastal palustrine deposits as marine deposits, or calcrete, may partly explain this situation.
The Upper Devonian Alexandra Formation, exposed in the Northwest Territories of Canada, is formed of two reef complexes that are separated by a Type I sequence boundary. At the landward part of the platform, this boundary is marked by a succession of coastal-plain deposits that is ~ 50 cm thick. The most distinct aspect of this succession are palustrine deposits characterized by charophytes, skeletal (Rivularia) stromatolites, and various pedogenic features including complex crack networks, root traces, and authigenic kaolinite. Karst features and calcrete, generally regarded as typical indicators of subaerial exposure, are not found.
This study highlights the sedimentary attributes that can be used to identify ancient palustrine deposits in marine coastal regions, distinguish these deposits from calcrete, and demonstrates their sequence stratigraphic significance, when found in marine limestone successions. It clearly demonstrates that palustrine deposits, like those found in the Alexandra Formation, should be considered indicative of subaerial unconformities and sequence boundaries, in the same manner as karst and calcrete.