High-resolution (sub-seismic) stratigraphic correlation in fluvial strata is extremely difficult using conventional subsurface core and wireline-log data (e.g. gamma-ray, neutron, density, sonic logs). Spectral gamma-ray logs provide additional data on lithological composition that can aid identification of chronostratigraphic surfaces in a high-resolution sequence stratigraphic correlation framework. The application of spectral gamma-ray data in constructing such a framework is demonstrated using data from exposures and the subsurface from the Cretaceous non-marine Blackhawk Formation and Castlegate Sandstone of the Book Cliffs area, Utah, USA. These strata provide an ideal test case for the use of spectral gamma-ray data in fluvial stratigraphy, because interpretations can be compared directly with a high-resolution sequence stratigraphic framework from coeval shallow-marine strata exposed nearby. The stratigraphic abundance of coals and relatively uniform Th/K ratio, which indicates uniform clay mineralogy, in mudstone sections of the non-marine Blackhawk Formation implies a humid, subtropical climate throughout its deposition. Variations in facies architecture and stratigraphy are therefore interpreted to have been driven principally by fluctuations in relative sea level and hinterland tectonics. Fluvial and fluvio-tidal sandstones within incised valleys, which lie above erosional sequence boundaries, have a highly variable spectral gamma-ray character, but locally are marked by distinctive heavy mineral lags and concentrations (Th consistently >3 ppm). On the interfluves of incised valleys, sequence boundaries are marked by palaeosols that locally have a distinctive leached, potassium-depleted character (Th/K ratio >17). Lateral variability in spectral gamma-ray character of sequence boundaries is consistent with facies and sequence stratigraphic models of the non-marine Blackhawk Formation and Castlegate Sandstone, but sequence boundaries do not exhibit a clear, diagnostic character in every location. In addition, high Th/K ratios of the type noted at interfluve palaeosols may be produced by potassium depletion beneath coal seams as a result of acid groundwater percolation during early diagenesis, and by thorium enrichment in heavy mineral lags within foreshore sandstones. These alternative interpretations can be eliminated if high Th/K ratios occur in intervals lacking coal seams and shallow-marine sandstones, respectively. Thus, within the context of a sound understanding of detrital mineralogy, diagenetic history, facies and appropriate sequence stratigraphic models, spectral gamma-ray data allow sequence boundaries to be identified and correlated in non-marine fluvial strata at least 80 km from the interpreted coeval shoreline.
Hampson, G. J., Davies, W., Davies, S. J., Howell, J. A., & Adamson, K. R. (2005). Use of spectral gamma-ray data to refine subsurface fluvial stratigraphy: Late Cretaceous strata in the Book Cliffs, Utah, USA. Journal of the Geological Society , 162(4), 603-621. https://doi.org/10.1144/0016-764904-059