Multi-scale classification of fluvial architecture: an example from the Palaeocene-Eocene Bighorn Basin, Wyoming

Amanda Owen* (Corresponding Author), Alena Ebinghaus, Adrian J. Hartley, Maurício G.M. Santos, Gary Weissmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
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Fluvial channel geometry classification schemes are commonly restricted in relation to the scale at which the study took place, often due to outcrop limitations or need to conduct small-scale detailed studies. A number of classification schemes are present in the literature; however there is often limited consistency between them, making application difficult. The aim of this study is to address this key problem by describing channel body geometries across a depositional basin to ensure that a wide range of architectures are documented. This was achieved by studying 28 locations over 4000 m of vertical succession in Palaeocene and Early-Eocene aged deposits within the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA. Five different channel body geometries have been defined based on the external geometric form, and internal arrangement and nature of storey contacts. These include the massive channel body geometry, semi-amalgamated channel body geometry, internally amalgamated channel body sheet geometry and offset stacked channel body geometry, which are considered to be subdivisions of the sheet geometry of many other classifications. An isolated channel body geometry has also been recognised alongside channel and sheet sandstone geometries in the floodplain facies associations. Field evidence, including the stacking style of storey surfaces, suggests that the different geometries form a continuum. The nature and degree of amalgamation at the storey scale is important in producing the different geometries, and is related to the degree of channel migration. It is speculated that this is the result of differences in sediment supply and available accommodation. In contrast to previous schemes, the classification scheme presented here recognises the importance of transitional geometries. This geometrical range has been recognised because of the basin-scale nature of the study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1572-1596
Number of pages25
Issue number6
Early online date18 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by Phase 2 of the Fluvial Systems Research Group (BP, BG, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Total). MGMS thanks the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP 2014/13937-3). The authors also wish to thank numerous residents of the Bighorn Basin for their kind hospitality and access to land. We also thank John Howell for discussions on fluvial geometries and nomenclature, and Isobel Buchanan and Alistair Swan for assistance in the field. Comments from reviewers Andrew Miall, Luca Colombera and an anonymous reviewer greatly improved this manuscript.


  • Bighorn Basin
  • channel
  • fluvial architecture
  • Fort Union formation
  • geometry
  • sandstone body
  • Willwood formation


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