Process Sedimentology and Three-Dimensional Facies Architecture of a Fluvially Dominated, Tidally Influenced Point Bar: Middle McMurray Formation, Lower Steepbank River Area, Northeastern Alberta, Canada

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Jablonski, Bryce Vincent John
Oils Sands , Point Bars , Fluvial-Marine Transition Zone , Process Sedimentology
Within the middle McMurray exposures along the Steepbank River (Steepbank River Outcrops 3 and 4), nine recognized facies can be divided into three genetically related groups: sand-dominated facies, inclined heterolithic stratification (IHS) facies and mixed heterolithic facies. Together, these facies are interpreted to represent a fluvially dominated, tidally influenced point bar that experienced strong seasonal variation in river discharge. Annual fluctuations between river-flood stage and low-flow stage are responsible for the deposition of fluvially dominated sand beds alternating with brackish, tidally influenced mud beds that cover the point-bar surface as members of the various IHS facies. The dichotomy of fluvially dominated sand deposition and brackish-water ichnology of the mud beds represents the annual migration in position of the tidal and salinity nodes caused by fluctuations in fluvial discharge. Recognition of metre-scale cycles (MSCs) of alternating sandier and muddier intervals within the IHS facies imply that decadal climate cycles, likely caused by fluctuations in ocean and/or solar dynamics, influenced point-bar deposition. These MSC packages are defined by an upward decrease in sand-bed thickness, an upward increase in mud-bed frequency, and an upward increase in bioturbation intensity, all occurring on a metre scale. MSCs are an important architectural element of these large-scale tidal-fluvial point bars because they are predictable, repeatable and continuous around the point bar. Analysis of paleocurrents relative to inclined-heterolithic-stratification bedding planes indicates that bend-flow modifications (BFMs) were effective in redistributing flow around the point bar. Furthermore, this suggests that Outcrop 3 is representative of an upstream-to-bend-apex transition within a large-scale point-bar planform. Recognition of multiple channels at Outcrop 4 was based on large-scale erosional truncation, IHS bed-orientation changes, large cumulative thicknesses of the middle McMurray, thick sand-package thicknesses, changes in relative scale of sedimentary structures, and the occurrence of large mud clasts. Similarities in depositional expression between channels suggest autogenic channel stacking (within-valley stacking), rather than the stacking of separate valleys. Finally, discordant paleocurrents within the basal sand-dominated facies are likely representative of amalgamated channel-bottom facies from several generations of channel. This suggests that only the upper intervals of basal sand-dominated facies are genetically linked to the overlying IHS facies.
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