Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Mass-balance constraints on stratigraphic interpretation of linked alluvial-coastal-shelfal deposits from source to sink: example from Cretaceous Western Interior Basin, Utah and Colorado, U.S.A.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



G.J. Hampson, R.A. Duller, A.L. Petter, R.A.J. Robinson, P.A. Allen

School/Research organisations


Experimental work suggests that the rate of upstream-to-downstream loss of sediment from an active depositional system to permanent storage exerts a fundamental control on stratigraphic architecture. This rate of sediment (mass) loss is determined by the spatial distribution of tectonic subsidence and rate of sediment supply. The character of input sediment (grain-size distribution and composition) is the third parameter that affects stratigraphic architecture. We apply this concept in a mass-balance framework to linked alluvial-coastal-shelfal deposits of the Upper Cretaceous Castlegate Sandstone, Blackhawk Formation, Star Point Sandstone, and Mancos Shale (Western Interior Basin, Utah and Colorado, USA). Facies partitioning and sediment budgets are estimated for eight stratigraphic intervals, in order to compare temporal dynamics of the sediment routing system from erosional source to depositional sink. Mapping of each stratigraphic interval and its constituent segments, from upsystem to downsystem, was achieved along a representative, dip-oriented 2D cross section over a distance of c. 350 km using extensive outcrop exposure and densely spaced subsurface wells. The cross section provides time-averaged estimates of the spatial distribution of deposition. Grain-size data show that there is limited downsystem fining of any particular facies within the Castlegate Sandstone, but that the proportion of facies changes systematically downsystem to accommodate an overall fining trend. Therefore, it is reasonable as a first approximation to use facies proportions as a "textural replacement" for grain size. Sediment supply characteristics for each of the eight stratigraphic intervals are constrained by total facies proportions in each interval. For each stratigraphic interval, we assess the level of interaction between alluvial and coastal-to-shelfal segments of the routing system. Comparison of the downsystem mass-balance characteristics of the eight stratigraphic intervals suggests that there were depositional gains and losses of shallow-marine shale in the five youngest intervals, which can be attributed to along-strike sediment transport. This result is consistent with increased interaction through time with vigorous wave- and tide-driven circulation in the seaway, as the sediment-routing system advanced out of a sheltered embayment in response to decreasing tectonic subsidence. In the youngest stratigraphic interval, the upstream-unconformable base of the Castlegate Sandstone is marked by a pronounced increase in the sand- to gravel-grade mass fraction of the fluvially supplied depositional volume. This marked increase can be attributed to hinterland unroofing and/or cannibalization of wedge-top basins, leading to import of coarse-grained sediment into the Castlegate fluvial system. Our results demonstrate the value of analyzing downsystem sediment loss (i.e., downsystem mass extraction) within a mass-balance framework as a simple and practical tool to quantify the relationship between accommodation and sediment supply, and thus to decode past external forcing mechanisms from stratigraphic architecture.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-960
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Sedimentary Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Evolution of the Mozambique Belt in Malawi constrained by granitoid U-Pb, Sm-Nd and Lu-Hf isotopic data

    Manda, B. W. C., Cawood, P. A., Spencer, C. J., Prave, T., Robinson, R. & Roberts, N. M. W., 29 Nov 2018, In : Gondwana Research. In press

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Rapid and punctuated Late Holocene recession of Siling Co, central Tibet

    Shi, X., Kirby, E., Furlong, K. P., Meng, K., Robinson, R., Lu, H. & Wang, E., 15 Sep 2017, In : Quaternary Science Reviews. 172, p. 15-31 17 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Landscape response to late Pleistocene climate change in NW Argentina: sediment flux modulated by basin geometry and connectivity

    Schildgen, T. F., Robinson, R. A. J., Savi, S., Phillips, W. M., Spencer, J. Q. G., Bookhagen, B., Scherler, D., Tofelde, S., Alonso, R. N., Kubik, P. W., Binnie, S. A. & Strecker, M. R., Feb 2016, In : Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface. 121, 2, p. 392-414 23 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Fluvio-deltaic avulsions during relative sea-level fall

    Nijhuis, A. G., Edmonds, D. A., Caldwell, R. L., Cederberg, J. A., Slingerland, R. L., Best, J. L., Parsons, D. R. & Robinson, R. A. J., Aug 2015, In : Geology. 43, 8, p. 719-722 4 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  5. Large rivers and orogens: The evolution of the Yarlung Tsangpo–Irrawaddy system and the eastern Himalayan syntaxis

    Robinson, R. A. J., Brezina, C. A., Parrish, R., Horstwood, M., Win Oo, N., Bird, M. I., Thein, M., Walters, A., Oliver, G. J. H. & Zaw, K., Jul 2014, In : Gondwana Research. 25, 1, p. 112-121

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Statistical estimation of the position of an apex: application to the geological record

    Owen, A., Jupp, P. E., Nichols, G. J., Hartley, A. J., Weissmann, G. S. & Sadykova, D., Feb 2015, In : Journal of Sedimentary Research. 85, 2, p. 142-152 11 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Origin of fluvial grain-size trends in a foreland basin: Pocono Formation on the central Appalachian basin

    Robinson, R. A. J. & Slingerland, R. L., May 1998, In : Journal of Sedimentary Research. 68, 3, p. 473-486 14 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

ID: 159068182