Spectacular canyon exposures of the ∼ 1 Ga Nelson Head Formation along the modern Brock River, Northwest Territories, provide a rare opportunity to assess the deposits of pre-vegetation, braided to sinuous-channelized fluvial systems. We analyze the sedimentology, architecture, and depositional evolution of 16 stacked fluvial-channel belts at this site, demonstrating greater variability in sedimentary style and morphodynamics than is typically interpreted for Precambrian rivers. Inferences on fluvial planview based on integrated analysis of depositional architecture and paleoflow reveal complex patterns of channel-planform evolution, and four depositional stages are recognized: (1) floodbasin-splay progradation with bounding episodes of eolian reworking; (2) deposition in wandering-channel belts characterized by deep anabranches and prominent lateral accretion; (3) progressive shift towards shallow, braided-channel belts confined within alluvial valleys and dominated by downstream accretion; and (4) deposition by marine-influenced braided-channel belts with mixed downstream, lateral, and upstream accretion.
Overall, the studied fluvial-channel belts point to significant morphodynamic complexity and geomorphic variability, challenging the assumption that all pre-Silurian rivers shared poor channelization and low sinuosity. Observed channel bodies also have width:thickness ratios strongly overlapping with those of rivers postdating the rise of vegetation. In both wandering- and braided-channel belts, complex patterns of channel migration, bar accretion, and dissection were the result of co-acting processes such as development of transverse-velocity zones within the channels, local paleoflow disturbance induced by depositional topography, and avulsion. In concert with the regional extent and paleoflow, and increasingly distal character of correlative stratigraphic units towards the northwest, the magnitude of the observed trunk-fluvial channels is consistent with a mature drainage capable of transecting the Laurentian craton over thousands of kilometers.