Grain-size controls on the morphology and internal geometry of river-dominated deltas

Alexander P. Burpee, Rudy L. Slingerland, Douglas A. Edmonds, Daniel Parsons, Jim Best, James Cederberg, Andrew McGuffin, Rebecca Caldwell, Austin Nijhuis, Jordan Royce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predictions of a delta's morphology, facies, and stratigraphy are typically derived from its relative wave, tide, and river energies, with sediment type playing a lesser role. Here we test the hypothesis that, all other factors being equal, the topset of a relatively noncohesive, sandy delta will have more active distributaries, a less rugose shoreline morphology, less topographic variation in its topset, and less variability in foreset dip directions than a highly cohesive, muddy delta. As a consequence its stratigraphy will have greater clinoform dip magnitudes and clinoform concavity, a greater percentage of channel facies, and less rugose sand bodies than a highly cohesive, muddy delta. Nine self-formed deltas having different sediment grain sizes and critical shear stresses required for re-entrainment of mud are simulated using Deflt3D, a 2D flow and sediment-transport model. Model results indicate that sand-dominated deltas are more fan-shaped while mud-dominated deltas are more birdsfoot in planform, because the sand-dominated deltas have more active distributaries and a smaller variance of topset elevations, and thereby experience a more equitable distribution of sediment to their perimeters. This results in a larger proportion of channel facies in sand-dominated deltas, and more uniformly distributed clinoform dip directions, steeper dips, and greater clinoform concavity. These conclusions are consistent with data collected from the Goose River Delta, a coarsegrained fan delta prograding into Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada. A reinterpretation of the Kf-1 parasequence set of the Cretaceous Last Chance Delta, a unit of the Ferron Sandstone near Emery, Utah, USA uses Ferron grain-size data, clinoformdip data, clinoform concavity, and variance of dip directions to hindcast the delta's planform. The Kf-1 Last Chance Delta is predicted to have been more like a fan delta in planform than a birdsfoot delta.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)699-714
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Sedimentary Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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