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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists


The Mountain Geologist
Vol. 53 (2016), No. 4. (October), Pages 259-281

The Paleocene Chance Member of the Fort Union Formation, northern Bighorn Basin, Montana and Wyoming: aperiodic cyclothems in a tectonically dominated lake basin

Leo J. Hickey, Richard F. Yuretich


A 400 m-thick sequence characterized by prominent tabular sandstone beds and a significant amount of marl and limestone occurs in Paleocene strata of the northern part of the Bighorn Basin (Clarks Fork Basin) of Wyoming and Montana. These strata, currently designated as the Belfry Member of the Fort Union Formation, actually consist of two separate but related lithogenetic units. The lower unit, which includes the Belfry Member stratotype, shows a gradual upward increase in tabular sandstone and marl or limestone and is inferred to have been deposited on a drowning flood plain under paralacustrine conditions. The upper unit, here proposed as the Chance Member, is characterized by the presence of six asymmetrical, basin-wide cyclothems. Each cycle begins abruptly with a transgressive surface overlain by laterally extensive tabular sandstone, followed by a micrite-dominated interval that together represent the lacustrine phase of the cycle. These are succeeded by lenticular interbeds of mudstone and sandstone inferred to have been deposited as a prograding fluvio-deltaic and flood plain sequence. The cyclothems are of variable thickness, ranging from ∼30m in the lowest cycle to ∼10 m in the uppermost cycles.

Detailed stratigraphic mapping and correlation with the paleomagnetic and vertebrate biostratigraphic framework for the Bighorn Basin places the entire Chance Member within a portion of one vertebrate zone, Ti4, of the middle Tiffanian Provincial Age (59.2 to 58.5 Ma). The variable thickness of the cycles points toward deposition during unequal time intervals and suggests a tectonic origin most likely related to episodic movement of faults bounding the Bighorn Basin.

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