Sequence Stratigraphic Architecture of Early Pennsylvanian, Coal-bearing Strata of the Cumberland Block: A Case Study from Dickenson County, Virginia
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Lower Pennsylvanian, coal-bearing, siliciclastic strata of the central Appalachian foreland basin were deposited in continental to marginal marine environments influenced by high-amplitude relative sea level fluctuations. Sediment was derived from both the low-grade metamorphic terrain of the emergent Alleghanian orogen towards the southeast, and the cratonic Archean Superior Province in the north. Immature sediments derived proximally from the Alleghanian orogen, including sublithic sandstone bodies, were deposited as a southeasterly-thickening clastic wedge within a southeast-northwest oriented transverse drainage system. Texturally and mineralogically mature quartzarenites were deposited in strike-parallel elongate belts along the western periphery of the basin. These mature quartzarenites are braided fluvial in origin and were deposited within northeast-southwest oriented axial drainage head-watered in a northerly cratonic source area. The contemporaneity of transverse and axial fluvial systems defines a trunk--tributary drainage system operating in the central Appalachian foreland basin during the early Pennsylvanian.
Detailed analysis of core, gamma ray logs, and cross-sections reveals a hierarchy of bounding discontinuities and architectural elements within the study interval. Discontinuities are both erosional and depositional (condensed) surfaces of interpreted 3rd-order (~ 2.5 Ma) and 4th-order (~ 400 k.y.) origin. Architectural elements within 4th-order sequences consist of upward-fining lowstand and transgressive incised valley fill, alluvial, and estuarine deposits, and upward-coarsening highstand deltaic deposits that are separated by condensed sections. 4th-order sequences are stacked into 3rd-order composite sequences. Sequence stratigraphic architecture in the central Appalachian basin can therefore be attributed to 4th-order Milankovitch orbital eccentricity cycles superimposed on 3rd-order orogenically driven subsidence, or more likely, 4th-order Milankovitch orbital eccentricity cycles superimposed on a lower-frequency eccentricity cycle. The widespread nature of both 3rd- and 4th-order marine flooding zones and sequence boundaries enables both genetic and depositional sequence stratigraphy to be applied to terrigenous to marginal marine coal-bearing strata of the central Appalachian basin.
Regionally extensive coal beds occur in close association with both 4th-order condensed sections as well as within highstand deltaic deposits. Formation of coal beds in the central Appalachian basin of southwest Virginia is therefore attributed to both an allocyclic glacio-eustatic mechanism, associated with Milankovitch orbital eccentricity cycles, and autocyclic deltaic processes related to channel avulsion and delta lobe switching.
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