Deeply channelled Precambrian rivers: Remote sensing and outcrop evidence from the 1.2 Ga Stoer Group of NW Scotland
Ielpi et al
The current paradigm on Precambrian fluvial sedimentology assumes that pre-vegetation environments did not allow for the establishment of deep, stable channels. However, few studies have documented a continuum of fluvial-depositional architectures along km-scale transects where clusters of channel bodies can be observed in their entirety. The Stoer Group consists of a 1.2 Ga rift-basin fill, its type area occurring at Stoer Peninsula, NW Scotland. Ground observations on classic coastal sections are integrated with remote sensing on a restored transect 7 km wide, representing 400 m of stratigraphy. The transect spans a set of palaeovalleys carved on high-relief gneissic basement. Remote sensing and ground-based sedimentology unveil a set of depositional domains, including: (i) perennial channels filled with downstream-lateral accretionary bars; (ii) poorly drained muddy floodbasins; (iii) well-drained sandy floodbasins containing splays and distributary channels, at times meandering; (iv) gravelly piedmonts composed of talus cones and fluvial-fan deposits; and (v) aeolian fields comprising dunes, ponded interdunes, and sandsheets. These depositional domains reveal an original geomorphic complexity higher than previously recognized for Precambrian terrestrial environments.
The occurrence of clustered channel bodies alongside or within both muddy and sandy depositional domains indicates that stable fluvial channels developed independently from the cohesive nature of the substrate. Their development was possibly aided by drainage focusing along valley thalwegs. Three types of fluvial channels have been identified: laterally extensive, multistorey channels akin to mobile, weakly sinuous rivers; vertically stacked, multistorey channels reminiscent of confined, weakly sinuous rivers; and laterally extensive, multilateral channels, indicative of highly mobile, moderately sinuous rivers. Eighty-four preserved channel fills display width-to-thickness ratios fully overlapping with those of post-vegetation and modern braided rivers, disproving the commonly held notion that pre-vegetation rivers could only generate sheet-like sandbodies. This study provides new insights on Precambrian fluvial styles, and underscores the potential of remote-sensing methods to analyze very large exposures of fluvial rocks.