Sandstone body character, river styles, and geomorphology of the lower Eocene Willwood Formation, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA

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Youwei WANG, Timothy Baars, Hiranya Sahoo, Joep Storms, Allard Martinius, Philip Gingerich, Hemmo Abels


The lower Eocene Willwood Formation of the intermontane Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA, is an alluvial red bed succession with a sand content of ca. 20%-25%. The formation has been studied intensively for paleontology, paleoclimate, and sedimentary reconstruction. However, alluvial sandstone bodies and their corresponding river styles remain little characterized and documented. Here, efforts are made to study the characteristics and river styles of sandstone bodies through ca. 300 m of alluvial stratigraphy in the McCullough Peaks outcrop area based on the field data and a georeferenced 3-D photogrammetric model. Four channel facies associations are recognized, and they are ascribed to four river planform styles: distributary channel, massive trunk-shaped channel, braided channel, and sinuous channel, with the latter two styles being the more abundant. The channel sandstone bodies that show the character of sinuous rivers and those of braided rivers differ significantly in average thickness (6.1 m versus 9.0 m) and insignificantly in average width (on average 231 m) and paleoflow directions (on average N003). Braided-character dominated and sinuous-character dominated river styles are seen to alternate in the outcrop, while they show no spatial dependency in the 10 km2 study area. Bighorn Basin margins varied in the early Eocene, with differing tectonic, geological, and topographic characteristics. The observed mixture of river styles may be attributed to differential influences of axial and transverse river systems and/or climate change that controls water discharge and sediment load. An early Eocene geomorphologic reconstruction is constructed summarizing these new and earlier results.



Geology, Geomorphology, Sedimentology


Bighorn Basin, Willwood Formation, channel sandstone body, river style, Willwood Formation, channel sandstone body, river style


Published: 2021-07-18 13:03

Last Updated: 2021-07-18 20:03


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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