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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists


The Mountain Geologist
Vol. 58 (2021), No. 3. (July), Pages 249-304

Sedimentology, petrography, and deposition of the Upper Cretaceous Codell Sandstone in the Denver Basin

Mark W. Longman, James W. Hagadorn, Virginia A. Gent


We integrate new and previous stratigraphic and petrographic data for the mid-Turonian Codell Sandstone to interpret its provenance, depositional characteristics, and environments. Our focus is on sedimentologic, X-ray diffraction, and X-ray fluorescence analyses of cores and thin sections spread throughout the Denver Basin, augmented by interpretation and correlation of well logs, isopach maps, outcrops, and provenance data.

Although we treat the Codell as a single mappable unit, it actually consists of two geographically disjunct sandstone packages separated by a southwest-northeast-trending gap, the NoCoZo, short for No Codell Zone. The Codell is everywhere capped by a significant unconformity and across much of the northern Denver Basin rests unconformably on the underlying shales of the Carlile Shale. In the southern Denver Basin, the Codell commonly contains two parasequences, each of which becomes less muddy upward. Biostratigraphic and geochonologic data suggest that the unit represents deposition over a relatively brief time, spanning ∼0.4 Ma from ∼91.7 to ∼91.3 Ma.

The Codell is predominantly a thin (<50 ft) sheet-like package of pervasively bioturbated coarse siltstone and very fine-grained sandstone dominated by quartz and chert grains 50 to 100 μm in diameter. The unit is more phosphatic than the underlying members of the Carlile Shale, and its grain size coarsens to medium-grained in the northern part of the basin. An unusual aspect of the Codell across our study area is the generally excellent grain sorting despite the presence of an intermixed clay matrix. This duality of well sorted grains in a detrital clay matrix is due to the bioturbation that dominates the unit. Such burrowing created a textural inversion that obscures most of the unit’s primary sedimentary structures, except for thin intervals dominated by interlaminated silty shale and very fine sandstone. A relatively widespread and unburrowed example of this bedded facies is preserved in a thin (<10 ft) interval that extends across most of the northern Denver Basin where it is informally called the middle Codell bedded to laminated lithofacies. Sparse beds with hummocky or swaley cross-stratified and ripple cross-laminated fine-grained sandstone are present locally in this bedded facies.

We hypothesize that Codell sediments were derived from a major deltaic source extending into the Western Interior Seaway from northwestern Wyoming, and that the Codell was deposited and reworked southward on the relatively flat floor of the Seaway by waxing and waning shelf currents as well as storms and waves. Codell sediments were spread across an area of more than 100,000 mi2 in this epeiric shelf system that spans eastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, western Kansas, parts of Nebraska and beyond.

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