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Sedimentary Geology, 49 (1986) 1-20 1

Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam Printed in The Netherlands

ALLUVIAL FAN FACIES IN THE MIOCENE-PLIOCENE COASTAL PLAIN


SANDS, NIGER DELTA, NIGERIA

L.C. A M A J O R
Geology Department, University of Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt (Nigeria)
(Received October 10, 1984; revised and accepted March 4, 1986)

ABSTRACT

Amajor, L.C., 1986. Alluvial fan facies in the Miocene-Pliocene Coastal Plain Sands, Niger delta,
Nigeria. Sediment. Geol., 49:1 20.

A 30 m thick alluvial fan developed in the lower part of the Coastal Plain Sand (Miocene Pliocene)
in southeastern Nigeria comprises four intergradational lithofacies: quartz pebble conglomerate, pebbly
sandstone, interstratified pebbly sandstone and parallel to cross-stratified sandstone.
The quartz pebble conglomerate facies consists of massive pebble packed beds set in a matrix of
coarse to very coarse sand. Unordered poorly developed fabric with rare imbrication is characteristic.
Deposition by debris flow on the proximal zone of the fan is interpreted for this facies.
The pebbly sandstone facies is a structureless unit composed of pebbles dispersed through a medium-
to coarse-grained sand with no significant pebble to pebble contact. Reversed distribution grading as well
as cut-and-fill structures are common. Deposition by debris flow within the medial section of the fan is
proposed.
The interstratified pebbly sandstone and sandstone facies comprises relatively thin alternations of
pebbly sandstone and horizontally stratified sandstone beds. Alternate deposition by sheet floods a n d / o r
debris flows in the distal part of the fan is suggested.
Parallel- and cross-stratified fine to medium sand facies represents sheet flood deposits in the most
distal part of the fan.
These facies characteristics are similar to arid, semi-arid, and temperate alluvial fans. Fault scarp
a n d / o r non-tectonic base-level change may have provided the necessary relief for the formation of the
fan.
The absence of braided stream deposits associated with the alluvial fan appears to support the earlier
contentions * that alluvial fan and braided stream deposits could be separate in space at any given time.

INTRODUCTION

The Coastal P l a i n S a n d is a n e x t e n s i v e s t r a t i g r a p h i c unit comprising the Upper


Niger Delta Plain deposits of Miocene-Pliocene age (Fig. 1). T h e formation is

* Le Blanc (1972) and Brown et al. (1973).

0037-0738/86/$03.50 '~ 1986 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V.


)

50 0 50 I00 JSO
} J I I r
SCALE 1 : 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
1. Mangrove swamps -'L
2 Sombreire delta plain_] Quaternary
3 Coastal plain -L
sands[ Miocene- Pliocene
[]Study Area

Fig. 1. Geologicmap of the eastern Niger delta showing the outcrop distribution of the Coastal Plain
Sand and the study area.

predominantly sand with common clay and pebble conglomerate interbeds.


Groundwater is abstracted from perched aquifers in the unit while, in places, sand
and pebbles are quarried for construction purposes.
In the past poor exposures related to deep tropical weathering, inadequate access
routes and thick sub-equatorial vegetation prevented earlier workers from sustained
investigation of the rocks. As a result much is not known about the depositional
environments of the sand and pebble deposits except for speculative generalizations
that lack the process-response methodology commonly applied to sedimentary facies
analysis.
On the basis of scanty paleo-ecologic data Reyment (1965) suggested a spectrum
of depositional environments ranging from fluviolacustrine through deltaic, estuarine
and lagoonal to marine for the formation. Avbovbo (1978) suggested braided stream
origin for the Coastal Plain Sand and its subsurface equivalent, the Benin Forma-
tion. Onyeagocha (1980) recognized marine deposits in the formation near Umuahia.
Lacking in these studies are specific examples for distinct depositional settings for
the various sandbodies and pebble beds that occur in the formation.
Recently, extensive highway construction and quarry faces have provided excel-
lent exposures of the unit. In the Itu Local Government Area of Cross River State
(Fig. 1) quartz pebble conglomerates and pebbly sand beds occur near the base of
the Coastal Plain Sand. These are being quarried in places.
This paper, the outcome of an investigation to determine extensional areas for
richer pebble quarrying, describes and interprets an example of an ancient alluvial
fan with no record of braided stream deposits as suggested by Le Blanc (1972) and
Brown et al. (1973). A contrary view is upheld by Boothroyd and Nummedal (1978)
who suggest that braided stream and alluvial fan deposits are not separate in space.
The findings of this study will, hopefully, add to our understanding of ancient
alluvial fan deposits particularly as they relate to braided stream deposits in space.

METHOD

A total of 25 outcrops situated along road cuts, quarry faces stream channels and
open farms were described in terms of the lateral and vertical variations in
thickness, lithologic assemblage, nature of contacts, clast lithotype, clast size, and
sedimentary structures in single beds. (Fig. 2). The longest axis of 50 largest clasts
were measured in each of 38 sample points along and near the expressway.
According to Boothroyd and Ashley (1975) this parameter best represents the
competence of the stream at any given point. Maximum clast size was then plotted
against distance between km 30 and 60 along the expressway. In the graph, however,
km 30 was plotted as 0 while 60 was plotted as 30. This method was employed
because it has been extensively used to characterize fan deposits (Bull, 1964: Hooke,
1967). Azimuthal bearings were taken by Brunton compass while distance was
largely determined by pacing. Diagnostic sedimentary features were photographed
for illustrative purposes.

STRATIGRAPHICAL SUMMARY

Figure 3 summarizes the surface and subsurface stratigraphy of the Niger delta.
The stratigraphic evolution of the Niger delta began with the regression of the Imo
Sea in Eocene times and this has continued till date (Reyment, 1965). During this
period outcrop sediments of the Imo, Ameki, Ogwashi Asaba Formations and
Coastal Plain Sand were deposited in eastern Nigeria as the delta advanced
southwards. Subsurface equivalents of these units are the Akata, Agbada and Benin
Formations.
The marine Imo and Akata Formation are mostly shales with minor sandstone
lenses near the top. They represent the pro-delta megafacies.
The Ameki and Agbada Formations consist predominantly of cyclic beds of
sandstone and shales deposited under paralic conditions. These represent sediments
of the delta front megafacies.
The Ogwashi-Asaba, Coastal Plain Sand and Benin Formations consist of sands,
pebble conglomerates, clays, peat and lignite deposited under continental conditions
in the delta plain mega-environment.
In the study area, the Coastal Plain Sand comprises yellow to white, generally
massive and unconsolidated sands with occasional interbeds of clay. A 30 m thick
pebble conglomerate, on the average, occurs near the base of the unit. The
sedimentary characteristics of the pebble bed are described and interpreted below.

SEDIMENTARY FACIES

Four lithofacies, identified as A, B, C and D in the text, are recognized in the


3 30 m thick coarsening-upward sequence of sandstone, pebbly sandstones and
pebble conglomerates in the Itu Local Government Area of Cross River State on the
basis of lithologic, sedimentary structures, and textural characteristics. They are
described and interpreted below from top to bottom.

Facies A: Quartz pebble conglomerate

This facies consists of massive, unconsolidated, poorly sorted, subrounded quartz


granules, pebbles and fine cobbles, 2.75-68 mm longest diameter, set in a matrix of
poorly sorted coarse to very coarse sand (Fig. 4A). A few shale clasts are present.
Generally, the fabric is highly unordered with rare pebble imbrication and stratifica-
tion is poorly developed. In the terminologies of Walker (1975) and Clarke (1979)
the unit can be said to be matrix supported or pebble packed, respectively.
Thickness varies from 1 to 3 m and the unit occurs singly or atop the pebbly
sandstone and interstratified pebbly sandstone facies. A sharp basal contact, scoured
in places, was also noted where this unit overlies a clay. A 5-7.5 cm thick indurated
ferriginous layer (hardpan) defines the contact between them (Fig. 4B). This
indurated unit represents the result of waters percolating through the conglomerate.
The precipitate is deposited here because of the permeability barrier between the
two lithologies. The underlying clay is thought to be lacustrine in origin because of
absence of marine fauna, presence of fish remains in places and the relationship
with the overlying facies.

Facies B: Pebbly sandstone

The pebbly sandstone facies comprises moderately sorted and sub-rounded


quartz granules and pebbles 16 25 mm in diameter, dispersed within a poorly
sorted medium to coarse sand matrix (Fig. 5A). A few larger clasts occur in places.
Compared to facies A, the sand/clast ratio is higher; the pebbles smaller sized,
better sorted and rounded with an improved matrix sorting. The most significant
textural attribute in this facies is reversed distribution grading (larger matrix
pp. 5-10
Fig. 2. Outcrop and sample locations and vertical facies sequences observed hetween and around km 30 and 60 along the Ikot Ekpene-Calabar Expressway.
- -- -------- ---
Clay - - - - - - --
-------
-------

ITEm
.. ....
Sand ~) ...... .
= Bridge

D:-----
J(
= Express Highway ~
······
Alternating Pebbly Sand and Sand- beds
Om
~O"I7'
8 metres (Vertical scale)
) Sand ( Facies B Pebbly
Sample pOints

r

Outcrops studied @ Facies A ) Pebble Conglomerate (
1 Km. 2.5cm.
Km.(Horizontal scale) f-------il
1
LEGEND
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Legend
LEGEND F------i~ Km.(Horizontol scale}
2. 5cm. 1 Km.
Pebble Conglomerate ( Facies A ) @ Outcrops studied
• Sample pOints
Pebbly Sand ( Facies B )
8 metres (Vertical scale)
Om
~tJ·o··tl· Alternating Pebbly Sand and Sand- beds
= Express Highway
~
r
J( = Bridge
, ",:-', ... . Sand
,"
. ...... .
· · · .· · · ·
-------

0:.··-----
-------
Clay
~-~::.-:----~-~-:
ITEm
Fig.Expressway.
ar 2. Outcrop and samplen and around km 30 and 60 along the Ikot Ekpene-Calabar Expressway.
pp. 5-10
II

SUBSURFACE BROADD E P ~
AGE SURFACE FMS.
EQUIVALENTS ENVIRONMENTS

/ J
/

/
/
/ OGWASHI -
IJEBU
AFAM &

o
,k

ASABA QUA IBOE


FM.
FM CLAY I~BRS[

/ AMEKI
ILARO FM.
\
¢.,
/ OSHOSHUN
FM.
FM.

/
J

Fig. 3. Stratigraphic correlation chart of Tertiary formations in the Niger delta (modified after Reyment,
1965).

supported pebbles atop finer ones). The fabric is matrix-supported or sand-packed


in the terminologies of Walker (1975) and Clarke (1979), respectively. Generally, the
unit varies from 3 to 6.2 m in thickness, is massive, structureless, unconsolidated,
and friable. A cut-and-fill structure (channel?) filled with crudely stratified pebbly
sandstones and streaks of pebble conglomerates was obserbed (Fig. 5B). These
probably represent the lithic fill of a channel entrenched by stream flow. The unit
overlies the lacustrine clay or underlies the interstratified pebbly sandstone and
sandstone facies. In the former, the basal contact is marked by a ferruginized layer.
Granules and pebbles quarried from this facies are shown in Fig. 6A.

Facies C. Interstratified pebbly sandstone and sandstone

This unit occurs atop the underlying sandstone facies. It comprises interstratified
pebbly sandstone and sandstone beds (Fig. 6B). The pebbly beds, 2.5 30 cm thick.
12

Fig. 4. (A) Quartz pebble conglomerate (pc) facies A; note the sharp lower and upper contacts (km 30);
(B) indurated ferruginized layer (fl) at the base of facies A and underlain by lacustrine clay (Lc) (near
km 32).

consist of subrounded to rounded granules and pebbles dispersed in a moderately


well sorted, fine to medium sand. The clasts are nearly uniform in size (2.5-8 mm).
The sandstone beds, 7.5-60 cm thick, consist of yellowish-red, friable, moderately
well-sorted, fine to medium-grained sand. A few are horizontally stratified. Gener-
ally, these beds are not only interbedded but intergrade into one another in places.
Gross thickness ranges from 3 to 10 m.

Facies D." Sandstone

This facies comprises well-sorted yellowish-white fine- to medium-grained sands.


M u d d y and silty horizons occur in places. A reddish-grey sandy clay interbed, 1.8 m
13

thick, was noted in an outcrop. This may be the result of pedogenic activities on the
fan surface or a tongue of the adjacent clay due to fluctuating flow conditions.
Horizontal and cross-stratification are common.

Vertical facies sequence

The vertical facies sequence begins with a clay (lacustrine?) with a sharp upper
contact that is scoured a n d / o r marked by a hard thin ferruginized layer. This unit is
succeeded by either the B - A or D - C - B coarsening-upward sequences (Fig. 2).
However, in a few outcrops some facies (A and D) appeared to exist independently.
In general a thick laterized reddish soil horizon overlies these sequences. It is
difficult at this stage to assign either a Pliocene or modern age to the soil.

~i ~ii~ii~iii~i~i~i~iii~iii~ i i ii~i~ ~i ~ , i!~i~i~iii~ii~i~i~i!~.~

Fig. 5. (A) Pebbly s a n d s t o n e facies B (farm valley near k m 50); (B) cut-and-fill structure in p e b b l y
s a n d s t o n e facies B at O k u Iboko.
14

Fig 6. (A~ Pebbles and granules mined out from quarry near Oku lboko; (B) interstratified pebbly
sandstone facies C (Akurikang).

[NIERPRETATION OF DEPOSITIONALPROCESSES

The poorly sorted framework and matrix components of facies A, absence of


preferred fabric and stratification suggest transportation and deposition processes in
which clasts were less free to move relative to one another and therefore unable to
respond individually to fluid stresses (Walker, 1975). According to Enos (1977),
Walker (1975), Middleton and Hampton (1973), Fisher (1971) and Johnson (1970)
these characterize debris flows. The scoured basal contact suggests that the flow was
able to scour the top of the underlying clay in places.
The matrix-supported pebbles of facies B with no stratification, relatively higher
sand/pebble ratio and smaller granule and pebble sizes with improved rounding
15

and sorting suggest a current that could not winnow the sand from the pebbles.
Thus, the sand and pebbles were deposited simultaneously by debris flow ( H a m p -
ton, 1972; Rust, 1978). H a m p t o n (1972) showed that debris flows tend to con-
centrate larger particles at the top and outer margins of the flow. This mechanism
probably explains the reversed distribution grading in this facies. The cut-and-fill
structure in unit B may be a channel entrenched by stream flow.
The interstratified pebbly sandstone and sandstone beds and their intergrading
relationship suggest that the depositional process fluctuated in time and space.
Equally possible is the likelihood that each bed may imply different depositional
processes with fluctuating sediment characteristics. The occurrence of horizontal
stratification in the sand beds, probably deposited under plane bed conditions,
suggests that the current probably reached the upper flow regime. Bull (1972)
suggests that deposits with such characteristics may reflect, in part, sheet flood
sediments deposited by surges of sediment laiden water that spread out from one
end of the stream channel on a fan. Under such a setting deposition is caused by a
widening of the flow into shallow bands or sheets with concurrent decrease in depth
and velocity of flow rather than a change in gradient at the end of the channel.
Facies C is, therefore, thought to be deposited by either an alternation of sheet
floods and debris flows, or the latter alone. In this case the debris flow deposited
only the available sediment.
The characteristics of facies D (well-sorted fine- to medium-grained, cross- and
horizontal stratification) suggest it to be the most distal facies in the environmental
spectrum. Sheet floods are the most likely depositional process. The clay interbed
probably represents a tongue of the lacustrine clay in which the fan developed.
The general characteristics of this facies sequence: coarsening-upward textural
gradient, intertonguing relationship with lacustrine clay, cut-and-fill structures,
evidence of debris flow and water-laiden sediments, absence of organic matter and
stratigraphic position between lacustrine clay below and soil cover are diagnostic of
alluvial fans (Bull, 1972). The down fan decrease in the average maximum particle
size (62 m m - - p r o x i m a l , 7.5 m m - - m e d i a l , sand size--distal) is consistent with this
interpretation (Fig. 7). The absence of Bouma sequence of sedimentary structures in
the facies sequence argues against turbidity currents (Bouma, 1962).
If the alluvial fan model is accepted then facies A reflects deposits of the apical
zone (proximal facies) characterized by the highest depositional slope angles and
flow strength, facies B the medial fan, facies C the distal fan and facies D the most
distal fan. The lateral facies distribution is depicted in Fig. 8. The observed vertical
arrangement of facies can be explained as a function of fan progradation which
displaces the proximal (A) over the medial (B) and the latter over the distal (C) and
so on as shown in Fig. 9.
The relationship of alluvial fans to braided stream deposits in space at any given
time has not been clearly defined. According to Le Blanc (1972) and Brown et al.
(1973) both are separate, with braided stream deposits being a down-the-paleoslope
65-

60-

• MAX C L A S T SIZE
55
PTS,

5o

45

40-
®
._N
35
t~
t~ 5o

E 25
o
-g 20 ;/
E
15- DISTAL MEDIAL PROXIMAL

o
10

0
~o ~ ~ ~ ~'~ ~o 1'8 i~ I'~ 12 1'0 8 6 4 2

Distance from s o u r c e (kin)

~'--- CALABAR IKOT E K P E N E --~

F i g . 7. M a x i m u m particle-sizedistribution with distancefrom theproxima|facies.


,LEGEND
iill:elt
w:i,~, PEBBLES
:,:'::il SAND
HOR,ZONTAL
"~,NAT,ON
CLAY

~.~1":$'~:i PEBBLE SANDSTONE

I ~ ' : : ~ , ; ~ .,'/- ~ , o . . . . . 4,

--

PROXIMAL ME DIAL DISTAL

0 5 10 20 25 ~Okm

IKOT EKPENE
CALABAR - -
~J

Fig. 8. Lateral facies distribution of the fan deposits.


18

I~ APPROX. 50 Km ----I
Fig. 9. Fan progradation model and resultant facies arrangement.

depositional environment distinct from alluvial fans. In contrast, Boothroyd and


Nummedal (1978) suggest that both facies are not separate in space but that braided
stream deposits are a major component of alluvial fan deposits. The absence of
braided stream facies in the described alluvial fan deposits is consistent with the
models of Le Blanc (1972) and Brown et al. (1973). The associated braided deposits
are likely to occur in the subsurface to the east or southeast of the study area.

TECTONIC SETTING

The tectonic setting of alluvial fans generally consists of a high-relief area


adjacent to a low-relief one. The high-relief areas are rapidly denuded to provide
sediments which build fans on the low-relief areas mostly at the zone of slope
change. Thus, current flow pattern, fan morphology, and anatomy are mainly
dependent on differences in relief, slope and sediment type supplied.
Mountain fronts and adjacent lowlands (Bull, 1972; Heward, 1978), fault scarp
areas (Crowell, 1954), and junctions between hanging tributary and major valleys in
glaciated and non-glaciated terrains (Suggate, 1963; Boothroyd and Ashley, 1975;
Boothroyd and Nummedal, 1978) provide the initial relief required for fan forma-
tion. Continued progradation a n d / o r retrogradation leads to further accumulation
and preservation of fan sediments (Fig. 9).
The known geology of the area definitely precludes mountain front-lowland and
glaciated terrain as the likely tectonic settings for these Nigerian fan deposits. The
writer feels that either a fault scarp or non-tectonic base-level change (hanging
stream valley and main river valley junction) may have provided the necessary relief
for the formation of the fan. However, a more detailed surface and subsurface
mapping of this unit is required to resolve this problem because the studied surface
exposures are not considered definitive enough.

CONCLUSION

A sedimentary facies analysis of pebble conglomerate and pebbly sandstone beds


exposed between km 30 and 60 along the Ikot Ekpene-Calabar express highway
and adjacent areas reveal their deposition as alluvial fan sediments.
19

The proximal facies, deposited by debris flow, consists of coarse to very coarse
sand matrix support quartz pebble conglomerate beds. The matrix and framework
materials are subangular to subrounded and generally poorly sorted with a poorly
developed fabric and rare imbrication.
Subrounded pebbles of a lesser clast size dispersed through a continuum of
medium to coarse, better sorted sand matrix with no significant pebble to pebble
contact represent debris flow deposits in the medial fan.
Alternating relatively thin finer pebbly sandstone and well sorted and horizon-
tally laminated fine to medium sandstone beds which grade downfan into well-sorted
cross- and parallel-stratified fine- to medium-grained sandstone beds with a clay
horizon represent the distal facies of the alluvial fan. Deposition was by debris flows
a n d / o r sheet floods.
The observed fan sequences are attributed to fan progradation which displaces
the proximal facies over the medial and the medial over the distal facies on a
lacustrine clay base.
A fault scarp a n d / o r a non-tectonic base-level change (hanging stream channel
and main river valley junction) may have provided the necessary relief for the
generation of the fan. However, a detailed surface and subsurface mapping of the
area will be helpful in resolving the problem.
The results of this study show that alluvial fans can develop in space without
braided stream.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The author thanks Odigi M. and Obienu N.I. for field assistance. Financial
support came from a University of Port Harcourt Senate Research Grant.

REFERENCES

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295 300.
Boothroyd, J.C. and Ashley, G.M., 1975. Process, bar morphology and sedimentary structures on braided
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fluvial and Glaciolacustrine Sedimentation. Soc. Econ. Paleontol. Mineral., Spec. Publ., 23: 193-222.
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deposits. In: A.D. Miall (Editor), Fluvial Sedimentology. Mere. Can. Soc. Pet. Geol., 5: 641-668.
Bouma, A.H., 1962. Sedimentology of some Flysch Deposits. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 168 pp.
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20

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Min. Geol., 17: 147-151.
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