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Utilizing sedimentology and geochronology to resolve the architecture of paralic strata in low-accommodation systems, McMurray Formation, Canada

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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A combined sedimentological-geochronological approach is employed to unravel the importance of paleoenvironments landward of the shoreline in understanding the stratigraphic architecture, and chronostratigraphy of the McMurray Formation in the Alberta Foreland Basin (referred to herein as the McMurray Depocenter; MDC), Canada. Presently, the McMurray Fm is subdivided based on the presence of regionally mappable mudstones, the bases of which are interpreted as flooding surfaces. However, the McMurray Fm comprises a wide range of paleoenvironments, and the Firebag Tributary in the northeastern MDC hosts a large volume of delta and coastal plain strata, including channels, mires, and interfluves. Facies characteristics, stratigraphic architecture, and geochronology of these deposits are explored and 3 main conclusions are derived. First, petrographic trends in coals sitting at the top of the Lower McMurray formed following increasing rates (0.5-3 mmyr-1) of sea-level rise during the Early Cretaceous. These coals outline the paleo-shoreline in the Firebag Tributary during Lower McMurray times. An ash-bed situated in this coal is dated at 121.39 ± 0.20 Ma, providing the first absolute age in the McMurray Fm. Second, the absolute age at the top of the Lower McMurray is used as a reference point to subdivide the McMurray Fm chronostratigraphically using detrital zircon (DZ). In a new stratigraphic approach to DZ geochronology, DZ samples from 5 stratigraphic intervals are combined to created novel grouped DZ samples. Grouped DZ samples showcase geographical provenance variability within depositional systems of the same stratigraphic interval, and are used calculate novel grouped maximum depositional ages. Third, detailed facies analysis and stratigraphic correlation of paralic strata in the Firebag Tributary allows for the identification of 2 progradational and 2 retrogradational phases of deposition. During Lower McMurray times the paleo-shoreline resided near the western edge of the Firebag Tributary, and mature paleosols underlying coals at its top indicate a potential maximum regressive surface. During the C2-B2 depositional units (DU), regression lead to paleo-shorelines close to the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. This is followed by a phase of progradation during the B1 DU, where paralic strata capping the unit lack evidence of base-level fall and demarcate major flooding. Progressive transgression ensued during deposition of the A2-A1 DUs. An ash-bed at the top of the B1 DU (115.07 ± 0.16 Ma) reveals that Lower McMurray to B1 DUs were deposited over ~1.6 Ma each, followed by ~0.8 Ma and ~0.4 Ma for the A2 and A1 DUs, respectively.
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Thesis advisor: Dashtgard, Shahin
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