Sedimentology and Regional Implications of Fluvial Quartzose Sandstones of the Lee Formation, Central Appalachian Basin


Sedimentological analyses, including detailed facies characterization and lateral profiling, demonstrate deposition in a bedload-dominated fluvial system for the quartzose sandstones of Lee Formation. Internal (architectural) elements of the sandstones consist primarily of truncated channel-fIll sequences. Individual channel elements, up to 20 meters thick, contain a complex hierarchy of bedform deposits. The principal internal component of channels were downstream-accreting (mid-channel?) macroforms; channel elements frequently contain deposits of more than one macroform. Reconstruction of the macroforms reveals accretion primarily by superposed bedforms that migrated down a low-angle front. Steeper, giant foresets, transitional along flow with the low-angle facies, indicate that the macroform episodically developed a steep slipface. Uppermost channels within the Rockcastle Member contain macroform elements with components of lateral accretion, interpreted as deposits of alternate bank-attached macroforms. Also recognized within channel-fill deposits are minor-channel, sandy-bedform, gravity-flow (attributed to bank slumping), and channel-bottom elements. The latter element is contained within a facies sequence that suggests rising- to flood- to waning-stage deposition. In general, deposition was probably during relatively high stage; little evidence of low-stage flow was recognized. Subordinate fine-grained facies are interpreted as levee and overbank deposits.

Strongly unimodal paleocurrents, lack of facies that suggest low-stage reworking and paucity of lateral-accretion features indicate deposition in a single-channel, low-sinuousity, system (i.e., a low braiding index). Fluvial architecture similar to that found in the Lee Formation has been previously explained by deposition in multi-channel, braided-river systems. However, the internal architecture of sandstone members is also consistent with a single-channel origin. Individual channels were temporarily confined, during which time the passage of several macroforms aggraded the channel. Position of the channel in the alluvial plain was largely controlled by avulsion of the river from fully aggraded channel belts to other areas of the plain. Calculations reveal that avulsion of a single-channel system across a wide alluvial plain is a plausible mechanism for building the sheet-like sandstone bodies of the Lee Formation. Spatial arrangement of individual sandstone members of the Lee Formation was probably controlled by tectonic processes. Episodic thrust-loading in the orogenic belt to the east and subsequent flexure of the crust in the foreland basin caused a step-wise progression of the river system towards the west.

Petrographic, sedimentologic and stratigraphic data indicate that source area and climate functioned as the primary controls on the mature composition of sandstones in the Lee Formation. Source areas were composed primarily of quartz-rich sedimentary rocks and were located chiefly to the northeast/north. A east/southeast source area supplied subordinate and low-grade metamorphic rock fragments. Intense weathering, associated with humid tropical climates, acted upon the detritus throughout the sedimentation cycle. Less important controls on composition were tectonics and transport/depositional processes that extended exposure of the sediments to the severe climatic conditions. Quartzose sandstones of the Lee Formation reflect lower rates of tectonic subsidence and greater recycling of sand-sized grains during transportation and temporary deposition on the alluvial plain, relative to lithic time equivalents to the east.