Palaeovalleys in foreland ramp settings: what happens as accommodation decreases down dip?
Recent advances in our understanding of palaeovalleys are largely guided by examples from passive margins, in which accommodation increases down depositional dip. This study tests these models against a dataset from the Pennsylvanian Breathitt Group of the central Appalachian foreland basin, USA. This fluvio-deltaic succession contains extensive erosionally based fluvio-estuarine sand bodies that can be tracked over 80 km down depositional dip from a proximal zone of high accommodation close to the orogenic margin to a distal, lower accommodation zone close to the cratonic margin of the basin. The sand bodies are up to 25 m thick, multi-storey and characterized in their lower parts by strongly amalgamated storeys containing sandy fluvial to estuarine bar accretion elements, and in their middle to upper parts by more fully preserved storeys up to 10 m thick and laterally extensive over 100s of metres. The upper storeys include abandonment channel-fills of heterolithic marine or marginal marine deposits or muddy to sandy point-bar elements. Three major regionalscale architectures include: (i) Tabular sand bodies that everywhere incise open marine prodelta and mouth bar facies and are interpreted as palaeovalleys formed during falling stage and lowstand systems tracts, when eustatic sea-level fall outpaced tectonic subsidence across the entire study area. (ii) Sand bodies that incise genetically related floodplain lake and/or bay-fill minor mouth bar deposits up depositional dip and open marine prodelta and mouth bar facies down dip. These stacked distributary channel deposits map down dip into palaeovalleys and formed when up dip subsidence rate resulted in positive, but reduced rate of accommodation creation, while lower tectonic subsidence rate down-dip resulted in incision. (iii) Sand bodies that incise genetically related floodplain, lake and/or bay-fill minor mouth bars up dip and pass down-dip into genetically related unconfined floodplain, prodelta and mouth bar deposits. These sand bodies represent stacked distributary channel fills and channel amalgamation was the product of high rates of lateral migration, typical of the behaviour of channels above their backwater reach. Case (2) sand bodies demonstrate that in rapidly subsiding foreland basins, cross-shelf palaeovalleys may form down depositional dip from aggradational, distributive fluival strata. Additionally, the genetic relationship between stacked distributary channels and palaeovalleys supports recent models for palaeovalley formation that emphasize diachronous, cut-and-fill during falling stage and lowstands of relative sea level.