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Departamento de Ecologia, Museu Paraense Emı́lio Goeldi, Av. Magalhães Barata, 376 CP 399, Belém, Pará CEP 66040-170, Brazil

ABSTRACT: The Cujupe Formation (Upper Cretaceous–?Lower Ter- of tidal processes in the study area, and that the facies associations are
tiary) represents the uppermost part of the Itapecuru Group in the consistent with their formation within an incised-valley estuarine setting.
eastern margin of the São Luı́s Basin (northern Brazil). This unit con- The estuarine deposits discussed herein provide an opportunity to compare
sists of deposits formed mainly by tidal processes, and is attributed to the facies patterns preserved at the mouth of both a wave-dominated and
tidal channel, subtidal bay fill, tidal shoal/sand flat, and tidal delta a tide-dominated estuary. In most of the ancient analogues documented in
depositional settings. Five stratigraphic intervals (US1–US5), defined the literature, these deposits have been totally removed by wave or tidal
by discontinuity surfaces (L1–L5) capped by lags, were recognized ravinement during ensuing transgression (Cheel and Leckie 1990; Willis
within this unit. and Moslow 1994). Emphasis will be placed on both facies variations and
The Cujupe Formation represents the estuarine fill of an incised physical surfaces within the estuarine deposits in order to understand their
paleovalley. The estuarine nature of these deposits is suggested by sev- sequential evolution through time within the context of relative sea-level
eral indirect lines of evidence, including: (1) tidally influenced facies changes.
associations that change rapidly over short distances; (2) dominance
of tidal-channel deposits; and (3) an ichnological assemblage suggestive GEOLOGICAL SETTING AND STRATIGRAPHY
of highly stressed, brackish-water conditions. The five units and the
bounding surfaces of the Cujupe Formation indicate a complex estu- The São Luı́s Basin is an elongated, northwest/southeast-trending struc-
arine setting. Analysis of facies architecture within the stratigraphic ture formed in the Brazilian Equatorial Margin, as a result of northeast/
intervals points to deposition in an estuary that changed dramatically southwest regional extension related to the origin of the South Atlantic
from a wave-dominated (US1/US2) to a tide-dominated one (US3). Ocean (Azevedo 1991). The tectonic evolution of the São Luı́s Graben is
Such a change in style records amplification of the tidal prism, which summarized into three main stages (Fig. 2). The pre-rift stage, in the Ap-
caused flooding of the estuary as the paleocoast dynamics shifted from tian, resulted in a broad, slowly subsiding depression (Aranha et al. 1990).
wave-dominated to tide-dominated conditions. The flooding process is The rift stage occurred in the Albian, when the basin underwent a pull-
interpreted to reflect rise in relative sea level during the transgression apart phase (Aranha et al. 1990; Azevedo 1991). The drift stage started in
of the paleovalley. The subsequent units (US4 and US5) formed in a the late Albian to Cenomanian with fast Atlantic sea-floor spreading, and
tide-dominated estuarine setting, but with increased fluvial influence. resulted in northward tilting of the basin. From this time on, several east/
Their origin is attributed to high-frequency episodes of progradation west- and northeast/southwest-oriented normal faults attributed to a region-
that took place during the turnaround from the transgressive to the al dextral strike-slip system were reactivated in the São Luı́s Basin (Aranha
highstand stage of the estuary evolution. et al. 1990; Azevedo 1991).
Deposits in the Aptian basin consist of fluvial and lacustrine sandstones
(Grajaú Formation), black shales, limestones, and anhydrite (Codó For-
INTRODUCTION mation). Between these deposits and the Oligo-Miocene Pirabas Formation
or mid-Miocene Barreiras Formation there is a thick (1000–3000 m) sil-
There has been recent increased documentation on the sedimentological iciclastic unit (Carvalho 1987; Aranha et al. 1990) termed the Itapecuru
and sequence-stratigraphic development of modern incised-valley estuarine Group (Rossetti and Truckenbrodt in press). The lower part of this group,
fills (Van Wagoner et al. 1990; Zaitlin et al. 1994). As a result of these informally called the Undifferentiated Unit, accumulated in the Albian pull-
studies, models have been proposed to synthesize the conceptual basis and apart stage. It consists of coarse-grained sandstones attributed to fluvial and
stratigraphic implications of wave- and tide-dominated estuarine end mem- deltaic depositional settings (e.g., Carvalho 1987; Aranha et al. 1990). The
bers (Dalrymple et al. 1992), and case studies have been presented to il- Undifferentiated Unit is overlain by the Alcântara and Cujupe formations
lustrate them (Zaitlin and Shultz 1990; Dalrymple and Zaitlin 1994). How- (Fig. 3A–C; Rossetti and Truckenbrodt in press), which record the north-
ever, recognition of ancient estuarine deposits is still difficult, because of ward basin tilting during the late Albian to early (?) Tertiary. The Alcântara
the highly variable sedimentary record. This results from a combination of Formation is an interval up to 35 m thick deposited during the early Cen-
factors, including: (1) relative balance between fluvial and marine influxes; omanian (Pedrão et al. 1993; Rossetti 1997). The Cujupe Formation is up
(2) fluctuations in relative sea level; (3) rate of sediment supply; and (4) to 25 m thick, and has an uncertain age because no biostratigraphically
coastal morphology. In addition to these complexities, studies of outcrops constrained data have been recovered. A maximum Cenomanian age and
emphasizing primary sedimentological data in combination with sequence minimum Paleogene age is indicated from its stratigraphic position above
stratigraphy are still insufficient to provide complete understanding of the the lower Cenomanian Alcântara Formation and below the Oligo-Miocene
origin and organization of ancient analogues. Pirabas Formation (Rossetti and Truckenbrodt in press). Previous workers
This paper aims to present the sedimentological features and the se- (Cunha and Del’Arco 1988; Colares and Cavalcanti 1990) have interpreted
quence stratigraphic significance of an estuarine fill on the basis of the these units as representing alluvial-fan, braided-fluvial, eolian, lacustrine,
combination of outcrop and subsurface data. The case study is the Cujupe and deltaic depositional settings.
Formation of the Itapecuru Group, exposed in the eastern margin of the
São Luı́s Basin, northern Brazil (Fig. 1). These deposits have not previously DESCRIPTION AND INTERPRETATION OF FACIES ASSOCIATIONS
been described in detail, and the existing reports have attributed them to a
continental origin (Cunha and Del’Arco 1988; Colares and Cavalcanti Six facies have been recognized in the study area. Each facies was coded
1990). An exception is the work of Rodrigues et al. (1990), who suggested with a capital letter to represent lithology and a small letter to represent
a general shallow marine setting. The present work shows the dominance structure. Genetically related facies defined four recurring facies associa-


Copyright q 1998, SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology) 1073-130X/98/068-299/$03.00

FIG. 1.—Location map of the study area with

the outcrops of the Itapecuru Group in the
eastern margin of the São Luı́s Basin (northern
Brazil), and the wells used in this study. The
main structural lineaments of the basin are also
shown in the insert map.

tions (assigned 1 to 4) attributed to tidal channel, subtidal bay fill, tidal are common. The trace fossils Ophiomorpha, Skolithos, and Arenicol-
delta, and tidal shoal/sand flat depositional settings (Fig. 3A, C). The key ites are locally present. Four facies are recognized in this association:
points of description and interpretation detailed in this section are sum- 1. Sigmoidal Cross-stratified Sandstone (Ssg).—Facies Ssg is a
marized in Table 1. special type of small- to medium-scale, oppositely dipping, cross-bed-
ded sandstone having sets with sigmoidal geometry (Fig. 4A). Individ-
Facies Association 1: Tidal-Channel Deposits ual sets are 0.05–0.55 m thick (averaging 0.30 m) and extend 0.60–3
m oblique to paleoflow. The boundaries of sigmoidal sets are marked
Facies Association 1 (Fig. 4–5) consists of deposits with either scoop- by millimeters- to centimeters-thick mudstone layers, which were lo-
shaped or undulating basal bounding surfaces marked by lags of quartz cally eroded to produce mudstone clasts. The foresets have sigmoidal,
pebbles and/or mudstone intraclasts. The deposits are several to many concave, or planar shapes. They are oriented in either a dominant north-
hundreds of meters wide and up to 8 m thick, though deposits as thin east or a subordinate southwest direction.
as 0.5 m are more common. Thinning- and fining-upward successions 2. Planar Cross-stratified Sandstone (Spc).—Facies Spc comprises

FIG. 2.—General stratigraphy of the São Luı́s


FIG. 3.—A) Gamma-ray pattern of the Alcântara and Cujupe formations in Well 2-AL-1-MA (see Figure 1 for location). B, C) Representative measured sections from
the Alcântara Formation (A) and Cujupe Formation (B) in the study area.

moderately to well-sorted, fine- to medium-grained sandstone with pla- thicker bundles alternate with groups with thinner bundles in a down-
nar, commonly tangential, cross-stratification (Fig. 4B). The sets are flow direction. Thinner-bundled groups correspond to an elevation of
either tabular or wedge-shaped, and vary in thickness from medium- the set boundary, whereas thicker-bundled ones correspond to a de-
scale (average thickness, 0.40 m) up to 1 m. Minor trough cross-sets pression of the set boundary (Fig. 4B). Paleocurrent measurements
are locally present. Reactivation surfaces and/or multiple mud drapes show a dominant northeast flow direction.
separate foreset packages, and locally define thick/thin bundles, as are 3. Intraformational Conglomerate with Sandstone Lenses
present in Facies Slc of Facies Association 1 (Fig. 4B). Groups with (GS).—Facies GS consists of units up to 6 m thick, with intraforma-

TABLE 1.—Main characteristics of the facies associations recognized in the study area

Type Facies Assemblage Description Interpretation

1 Ssg, Spc, GS, Sandstone and mudstone with erosionally, basal bounding surface, which are commonly concave-up in shape and have intraformational Tidal channel
and H lags. The fill is represented by sigmoidal and planar cross-stratified sandstones, intraformational conglomerate with sandstone lenses, and
heterolithic bedded deposits. Features suggestive of ebb/flood and neap/spring tidal cycles are present. Ophiomorpha, Skolithos and
Arenicolites are dispersed in this facies association.
2 H Heterolithic (flaser, wavy, lenticular and pinstripe) bedded-deposits that surround tidal channel deposits. Abundant carbonaceous debris, Subtidal bay fill
and synaeresis cracks. Thickening upward successions. The trace fossils identified in this facies association are Thalassinoides, Arenicol- (tidal bar)
ites, Diplocraterion, Planolites and (?) Muensteria.
3 Sm/d, Ssg Deposits with lobate geometry formed by a sandy nucleus with massive/deformed bedding and minor tidal-generated sigmoidal bedding, Tidal delta
which pinch out laterally, ending into low energy bay mudstone. The sandy nucleus presents low ichnological diversity, being mostly
represented by Ophiomorpha. Diversity increases toward the delta margin, which includes burrows such as Planolites, Thalassinoides,
Diplocraterion, and (?) Muensteria.
4 Sh and H Deposits internally characterized by microsequence formed of alternations of parallel lamination with micro-cross lamination, flaser, and/or Tidal shoal/sand flat
wavy/lenticular bedding. Skolithos, Diplocraterion and (?) Palaeophycus are common trace fossils in this facies association.

tional mudstone intraclasts interbedded with lenses of massive/de- posits on the basis of the following features: (1) erosional lower bound-
formed sandstone up to 1 m thick and 60 m long. The mudstone intra- ing surfaces with lags; (2) common channel geometry; and (3) internal
clasts are subrounded to rounded and poorly sorted. The conglomerates organization into thinning- and fining-upward successions. Ophiomor-
are clast-supported and have a moderately to well-sorted, fine-grained pha, Skolithos, and Arenicolites are typical of sandy, high-energy set-
sandy matrix. tings. The sedimentary structures suggest tidal influence. The sigmoidal
4. Heterolithic-Bedded Facies (H).—Facies H consists of sandstone bedding (Facies Ssg) is similar to features recorded in tide-influenced
and mudstone interbedded in variable proportions, which form pin- settings (Mutti et al. 1985; Kreisa and Moiola 1986; Nio and Yang
stripe, lenticular, wavy, and flaser bedding. The sandstone layers are 1991). The oppositely dipping cross-sets are consistent with a tidal in-
massive (structureless), cross-laminated, or parallel laminated. Unidi- terpretation and probably record ebb–flood tidal cycles. The thick/thin
rectional, generally northeast-oriented paleocurrents dominate, though bundle sequences of Facies Spc suggest ebb–flood tidal cycles (Yang
oppositely dipping laminae are also present. Two orders of cycles are and Nio 1985; Leckie and Singh 1991; Shanley et al. 1992). The lateral
locally recognized (Fig. 5A–B). A first-order cycle consists of alter- alternation between groups with thicker bundles and thinner bundles
nating thicker/thinner sandstone layers several centimeters thick and and the lateral change in the lower set boundaries are attributed to
displays reversing paleocurrents. A second-order cycle consists of sand- spring/neap tidal cycles (Boersma and Terwindt 1981; Mowbray and
ier packages 20–25 m thick with thicker/thinner bundles, which alter- Visser 1984). The thicker-bundled groups with depressed set boundaries
nate with muddier packages 10–15 m thick. probably formed during more energetic, and consequently more erosive,
Interpretation.—Facies Association 1 is attributed to channel de- spring tides. The thinner-bundled groups with elevated set boundaries

FIG. 4.—A) Line drawing of sigmoidal cross-

stratified sandstone (Facies Ssg), with set
boundaries marked by thin mudstones (dense
tone) that are either continuous or interrupted,
forming mud clasts. Note the internal cross-
strata, which dip in different directions. B)
Details of tidal-channel deposits showing cross-
stratified sandstone with neap/spring tidal cycles
(see text for explanations). The blowup shows
one neap/spring cycle, with the foresets arranged
into packages separated by reactivation surfaces
and/or mud drapes (arrows). In the left side of
the blowup, note thick and thin bundles defined
by mud couplets, which are attributed to ebb/
flood tidal fluctuation.

FIG. 5.—A) Schematic representation of the two orders of cycles observed in the heterolithic bedding (Facies H) described in the text. B) Photograph of a second-order
(neap and spring) cycle. Note the alternation of oppositely dipping cross-sets in the interval attributed to spring tide, which are interpreted as the record of ebb and flood
tides. (e 5 ebb tide; f 5 flood tide; S 5 spring tide; N 5 neap tide).

would have formed during less energetic, and consequently less erosive, of deposits formed below mean tide, laterally and vertically adjacent to
neap tides. The dominance of unidirectional cross-stratification resulted tidal channels, is a relationship that is in agreement with a bay-fill
from highly asymmetrical tidal currents. The first-order cycles of Facies setting. The synaeresis cracks and the low ichnological diversity sug-
H are attributed to flood/ebb tidal fluctuations. Reversing paleocurrent gest stressed conditions, caused probably by changes in water salinity,
directions within the sandstone couplets reinforce this interpretation and a situation favored in embayments (Kidder 1990). The coarsening/thick-
indicate that the subordinate current was locally strong enough to trans- ening upward successions probably record the progradation of subtidal
port sand and form small ripples. The second-order cycles, represented sand bars into the low-energy bay settings (Allen 1991).
by the vertical alternation of sandier and muddier packages internally
containing flood/ebb bundles, probably record spring/neap cycles. Facies Association 3: Tidal-Delta Deposits
Sandier packages probably formed during peak energy associated with
spring tides. Conversely, muddier packages formed toward the neap Facies Association 3 (Fig. 7A–C) comprises sigmoidal cross-bedded
tides, as the current became progressively weaker, which caused di- and massive/deformed sandstones. The grains are in general well-sort-
minished sand transport and favored mud accumulation. ed, moderately to well-rounded, and fine-grained. The sigmoidal cross-
stratified sandstones are similar to Facies Ssg of Facies Association 1.
Facies Association 2: Subtidal Bay Fill Deposits The massive/deformed sandstone (Facies Sm/d; Fig. 7C) displays a va-
riety of soft-sediment deformation structures, including: (1) massive
Facies Association 2 is characterized by thick intervals (up to 8 m) bedding; (2) convolute bedding; (3) widely spaced, isolated pillars less
consisting entirely of heterolithic beds that surround tidal-channel de- than 2 cm high (Fig. 7B); (4) small-scale flame structures and load
posits. These deposits are similar to Facies H of Facies Association 1, casts; and (5) small-scale slumps. The sandstones are arranged into
being represented by sandstone and mudstone interbedded in variable lenses up to 1 m thick and 200 m wide, following the depositional strike
proportions. Sandstone layers are structureless or cross-laminated. Op- direction (Fig. 7A). The lenses form sandy nuclei that are 3–7 m thick,
positely dipping cross-laminae, reactivation surfaces, and mud drapes and they laterally interfinger with subtidal-bay mudstones of Facies As-
are common within the sandstone beds, as are symmetrical ripple marks sociation 2. Burrows, such as Ophiomorpha, are rare in the central sand-
at their tops. The heterolithic-bedded unit locally forms coarsening/ stones but become abundant and more diversified marginward (Diplo-
thickening-upward successions. The two orders of cycles attributed to craterion, Thalassinoides, Skolithos, and (?)Muensteria). Paleocurrent
ebb/flood and spring/neap tides that are present in Facies H of Facies data derived from the cross-stratified sandstones indicate dominant
Association 1 are also common in Facies Association 2. Thalassinoides, northeast flows with a subordinate, reverse-oriented mode.
Arenicolites, Diplocraterion, Planolites, and (?)Muensteria are locally Interpretation.—Facies Association 3 is interpreted as tidal-delta
abundant (Fig. 6A–B), as are carbonaceous debris, ferruginous concre- deposits on the basis of the tidal nature of Facies Ssg (see previous
tions 2–3 cm in diameter, and synaeresis cracks (Fig. 6C). discussion), the architecture of the sandstone bodies, and the abundance
Interpretation.—Facies Association 2 is attributed to subtidal bay- of massive/deformed sandstone. The geometry, represented by a sandy
fill deposits, on the basis of several sedimentary features. The abun- nucleus that laterally interfingers with bay-fill deposits, is interpreted
dance of carbonaceous debris and ferruginous concretions suggests de- to reflect the cross-sectional view of deltaic lobes (Imperato et al. 1988;
position under reducing conditions, as occurs in bay settings. The pres- Sha 1990). The sandy nuclei probably record rapid seaward sediment
ence of two orders of cycles attributed to ebb/flood and neap/spring accumulation around active channel troughs, an interpretation consis-
tides is consistent with deposition in the subtidal zone. The dominance tent with the abundance of massive/deformed sandstones. Sedimenta-

FIG. 6.—Sedimentary features from tidal-

channel and subtidal bay-fill deposits (Facies
Association 2), illustrating: A) Thalassinoides
(the arrows indicate bifurcation points where
branches are enlarged, a typical feature in this
type of burrow); B) Diplocraterion; and C)
synaeresis cracks (plan view).

tion rates were probably high because the confined flow lost its com- crosequences that average 10–20 cm in thickness and are separated by
petence when it entered a standing body of water. These massive/de- sharp, commonly erosional contacts (Fig. 8). Individual microsequences
formed beddings, which are typical of delta settings, record water es- consist of horizontal, parallel-laminated sandstones (Facies Sh) overlain
cape from rapidly accumulated, unconsolidated to semiconsolidated by one of the following: (1) small-scale cross-laminated sandstone; (2)
deposits (Lowe 1975; Van Loon and Brodzikowski 1987). The scarce flaser-bedded sandstone and mudstone; or (3) wavy-bedded sandstone
burrowing in the sandy nucleus and intense burrowing marginward re- and mudstone. In addition, parallel-laminated units are locally separated
flects a lateral decrease in flow energy, typical of delta lobes. The delta by mudstone layers. Burrowing is rare in this association, except for
margin provided better habitats for fauna, probably because of lower areas characterized by high-density but low-diversity suites of trace
sedimentation rates. The good textural maturity of the sand grains is fossils, such as Skolithos, Diplocraterion, and ?Palaeophycus.
further consistent with deposition in a delta setting. Sediments depos- Interpretation.—Facies Association 4 is interpreted as tidal-shoal
ited in deltaic areas have commonly undergone reworking by waves and sand-flat deposits on the basis of the spatial relationship with other
and longshore currents, resulting in deposits with well-sorted and well- tidal deposits and internal microsequences. The increased sand depo-
rounded sand grains (Imperato et al. 1988). sition relative to the bay-fill deposits and the distribution around tidal-
The main northeast dip of the cross-beds suggests that the delta lobes channel deposits are characteristics that support a tidal-shoal and sand-
formed largely under dominant ebb tidal currents, assuming that the flat depositional setting for this facies association. The microsequences
land area was to the southwest (see paleocurrent interpretation). The record deposition in laterally adjacent high-energy (parallel lamination)
cross-stratified sandstones with subordinate, reverse-oriented paleocur- and low-energy (e.g., flaser and wavy bedding) areas, which are typical
rent data record zones with flood-current influence, which might reflect of tidal-shoal and sand-flat settings. Similar ancient microsequences
a flood tidal delta and/or marginal flood-oriented tidal channels. have been attributed to tidal-shoal settings (Nio et al. 1980; Richards
1994). Finally, the ichnological assemblage indicates an energetic, shal-
Facies Association 4: Tidal-Shoal and Sand-Flat Deposits low marine setting, which is consistent with this interpretation, since
flow energy increases over shallow shoal areas (Johnson and Levell
Facies Association 4 consists of horizontally laminated sandstone 1995).
(Facies Sh), and minor heterolithic-bedded deposits (Facies H). Facies
Sh is represented by fine- to medium-grained sandstones with horizon- FACIES ARCHITECTURE
tal, planar lamination. Facies H includes thick-bedded, flaser-bedded,
and minor wavy-bedded components. This association is up to 6 m thick Despite its apparent lithological uniformity, the Cujupe Formation
and interfingers with bay-fill deposits that typically surround the tidal- has prominent discontinuity surfaces with associated lags. These sur-
channel association. Facies Association 4 can be subdivided into mi- faces are laterally extensive for several thousands of meters and cut

FIG. 7.—A) Schematic representation of tidal-delta deposits, showing the geometry represented by a sandy nucleus that grades laterally into mudstone. Bioturbation (;)
is sparse to absent in the center of the delta lobe but increases dramatically marginward (the enclosed box locates part B). B) Field photograph of the tidal-delta deposits,
illustrating part of the sandy nucleus, overlain by tidal-channel deposits (see encircled people for scale). C) A detail of part B (see enclosed box for location), showing
poorly structured to massive bedding with large-scale pillars (arrows).

into a variety of depositional environments, subdividing the deposits bounding surface and pebble lag at the top of US5 is also marked by a
into five units defined as US1 to US5 (Fig. 9). The lags contain quartz, lateritic paleosol horizon. Major differences in the sedimentology of
granite, mudstone, wood fragments, and ferruginous nodules, are only the five units warrant discussion. (1) The change from US2 to the upper
one pebble layer thick (3–5 cm), and are commonly iron oxide ce- units is accompanied by a significant modification in the paleocurrent
mented. US1 and US2 are each up to 8 m thick, and consist of tidal- data. A northeast paleocurrent mode dominates in the US2 unit, but the
channel (Facies Association 1), tidal-delta (Facies Association 3), and degree of dispersion increases and southwest-directed cross-bedding be-
minor bay-fill deposits (Facies Association 2). US3 to US5 each range comes more abundant upward. (2) Units US4 and US5 show a decrease
from 1 to 10 m thick and consist of tidal-channel, bay-fill (tidal-bar), in both burrowing and features diagnostic of tidal processes (i.e., tidal
and tidal-shoal and sand-flat deposits (Facies Association 4). The bundles). (3) There is a substantial increase in grain size and in the

FIG. 8.—Microsequences from tidal-shoal and

sand-flat deposits.

FIG. 9.—Measured section of the Cujupe Formation, showing the spatial distribution of facies associations and their subdivision into five units (US1–US5), bounded by
erosional surfaces with lags (L1–L5).

content of feldspar grains in the sandstones of the upper two units rel- with estuarine settings, where shifting substrates and fluctuations in
ative to the lower three units. turbidity, salinity, and temperature are common (Frey and Howard
1986; Allen 1993).
DISCUSSION OF THE DEPOSITIONAL SYSTEM The dominant northeast and subordinate southwest orientation of
tide-generated cross-bedding within the Cujupe Formation suggests a
Several indirect lines of evidence suggest that the Cujupe Formation northwest/southeast paleocoast orientation with land areas to the south/
formed within an estuarine setting. (1) Sedimentary features character- southwest. Dominant ebb tides are preferentially preserved in estuarine
istic of a variety of tide-generated depositional settings are abundant. settings such as this, because ebb flows are typically enhanced by fresh-
(2) Tidal-channel deposits are abundant. From a stratigraphic view- water runoff (Johnson and Levell 1995).
point, an estuary consists of strata formed in the intertidal and shallow The architectural organization of the facies associations in the Cujupe
subtidal zone, and are mainly represented by channel-form deposits Formation, and the five stratigraphic units (US1–US5), suggest depo-
(Frey and Howard 1986). The crosscutting channel deposits of this in- sition along a coast with changing dynamics through time. A wave-
stance show complex deposition within the confines of larger channel dominated estuary is suggested for units US1 and US2, on the basis of
systems. Scour-based successions containing numerous tidal-channel the dominance of tidal-delta deposits that interfinger with tidal-channel
deposits linked to a variety of laterally adjacent, tide-dominated envi- sandstones and minor, lower-energy, bay mudstones. Tidal-delta de-
ronments are common in many modern and ancient estuarine succes- posits in wave-dominated estuaries develop either in association with
sions (Allen 1991; Leckie and Singh 1991; Richards 1994; Ainsworth barriers and tidal inlets in the outermost zone or with inner bayhead
1994). (3) The abundant, but low-diversity, trace fossil assemblage is delta areas (Clark and Reinson 1990; Dalrymple et al. 1992). The dom-
suggestive of highly stressed, brackish biotopes, which is consistent inance of well-sorted, well-rounded, quartz-arenite lithologies in these

FIG. 10.—Gamma-ray correlation showing the subsurface distribution of the paleovalley represented by the Cujupe Formation, which is incised into another paleovalley
(Alcântara Formation). Note that the base of these deposits is bounded by an erosional surface with pronounced erosional relief, interpreted to represent a sequence boundary
formed during low relative sea level.

tidal-delta deposits is probably the result of wave reworking, which is

favored at the estuary mouth. Under moderate tidal influence, tidal del-
tas may represent the major component of the outermost estuarine sand
plug (Boyd and Honing 1992). In contrast to US2, a barred coastline
is unlikely for the overlying units because tidal-delta and lagoon de-
posits are absent. Instead, the dominance of tidal-channel deposits and
the widespread bay-fill (tidal-bar) and tidal-shoal and sand-flat deposits
are consistent with a funnel-shaped, tide-dominated estuary (Woodroffe
et al. 1989; Allen 1990; Oertel et al. 1991; Blondel et al. 1993).


Regional surface mapping reveals that the Cujupe Formation forms

a northeast/southwest-trending, elongated belt at least 150 km long and
20–30 km wide. The unit is part of an interval nearly 30 m thick with
blocky to funnel-shaped gamma ray pattern. This stratigraphic interval
is marked at the base by a subtle increase in gamma-ray signals, indi-
cating a sharp lithological boundary. Correlations of gamma ray profiles
indicate that the surface defined by this contact extends for several
kilometers southwestward of the study area (i.e., following the depo-
sitional dip direction) and has about 40 m of relief (Fig. 10).
The Cujupe Formation is interpreted to represent part of an incised
paleovalley. First, this is suggested because estuarine deposits are the
main components of incised-valley fills (Zaitlin et al. 1994). Second,
deposition within a large depression or valley is consistent with: (1) the
surface distribution as an elongated belt; and (2) the subsurface occur-
rence in a stratigraphic interval bounded by a basal surface with pro-
nounced relief. The upward transition from blocky to funnel-shaped
gamma ray profiles is in agreement with the paleovalley hypothesis,
since many ancient and modern analogues show similar patterns (Zaitlin
and Shultz 1990; Van Wagoner et al. 1990; Jennette et al. 1991). This
paleovalley is incised into the Alcántara Formation (Fig. 10), which is
also attributed to an estuarine incised valley (Rossetti 1996).


The presence of estuarine deposits in the Cujupe Formation implies rise

in relative sea level exceeding the rate of sediment supply (Nichols et al.
1994), a situation that occurs during deposition of the late lowstand systems
tract (LST), the transgressive systems tract (TST), or the highstand systems
tract (HST) (Dalrymple et al. 1992).
The stratigraphic evolution of the Cujupe Formation was complex (Fig.
11A–E). Comparing the architectural organization of facies associations
from US1 to US5 allows understanding of the genesis of the bounding
surfaces, as well as the stratigraphic implications of the Cujupe Formation
within the context of fluctuations in relative sea level. The passage from
US1/US2 to US3 units shows a dramatic change from a wave-dominated
to a tide-dominated estuarine style (Fig. 11B–C), which could reflect a
paleocoast characterized by either lateral variation in tidal regime (Blondel
et al. 1993) or fluctuating dynamics through time (Siringan and Anderson
1993; Dalrymple and Zaitlin 1994; Oost 1995). Strong along-shore migra-
tion would have been necessary to superpose a tide-dominated system upon
a wave-dominated system. This scenario is unlikely because tide-dominated
coasts typically do not show significant lateral migration. Thus, the passage
from a wave-dominated estuary (US2) to a tide-dominated estuary (US3)
was probably a function of changing paleocoastline dynamics.
FIG. 11.—Stratigraphic evolution of the Cujupe Formation in the study area. A
sequence boundary (SB1) developed at the top of the Alcântara Formation as a result ←
of sea level drop, subaerial erosion, and associated fluvial incision (A). Slow rise in
sea level during the subsequent late lowstand and/or early transgression led to re- prism, which resulted in a change into a tide-dominated estuary (C). Following a
working of fluvial deposits and development of a new wave-dominated estuary (B). maximum transgression (L3), the estuary translated basinward (D). This highstand
High-frequency transgressions resulted in translation of the system landward, pro- progradation ended in a period of relative sea-level fall with subaerial exposure and
ducing transgressive ravinement surfaces with lags (L1 and L2). Rapid transgression development of a widespread lateritic soil horizon, which formed a sequence bound-
caused destruction of the barrier at the estuary mouth and amplification of the tidal ary (SB2). The interpreted systems tracts are indicated in (E).

FIG. 12.—Schematic diagram illustrating the

proposed origin of the stratigraphic units and
bounding surfaces of the Cujupe Formation,
within the context of high-frequency relative sea-
level fluctuations superimposed upon an overall
transgression to early highstand sea-level stage.

The evolution from US1/US2 to US3 involved baymouth opening, re- extensive bounding surfaces with lags (i.e., L3–L4), which are comparable
sulting from destruction of the barrier and inlet complex in the distal set- to the L2 between US2 and US3. Second, these upper units probably were
tings of the estuary. This is shown by the disappearance of the tidal delta deposited under increasing fluvial influence compared to the lower units
in the US3 unit. Opening of the estuary mouth caused amplification of the (Fig. 11D), as inferred from: (1) the upward increase in both sand grain
tidal prism. By comparison with modern analogs, this opening is attributed size and content of feldspar grains; and (2) the upward decrease in grain
to rise in relative sea level (Siringan and Anderson 1993; Dalrymple and sorting, features diagnostic of tidal processes, and trace fossils.
Zaitlin 1994; Oost 1995). The estuary flooded and became deeper as trans- The proposed increase in fluvial influence in the upper part of the Cujupe
gression took place. The increased dispersion of paleocurrent data and more Formation suggests a change from transgression to progradation, a situation
abundant southwest-oriented cross-beds in the upper units relative to US2 typical of the transition from TST to HST (assuming that all other factors,
are attributed to increased strength of the subordinate, flood-oriented tidal such as rate of sediment supply and subsidence, remained constant; Fig.
currents. This change in flow pattern is consistent with the increased trans- 11E). Therefore, the bounding surface between US3 and US4 is a good
gressive nature of the estuary (Leckie and Singh 1991; Dalrymple and candidate for a maximum flooding surface (Fig. 11D). Units US4 and US5
Zaitlin 1994). Considering that rise in relative sea level caused the transi- are attributed to two later, high-frequency episodes of progradation, which
tion from US2 to US3, then the lag-covered surface (L2) between these occurred as the rate of relative sea-level rise began to decline during the
units constitutes a flooding surface (Fig. 11C). Erosion along the bounding early HST. The bounding surface (L4) between these units probably formed
surface probably is the result of tidal ravinement, which reworked coarse in response to increased sea-level rises, and thus also constitutes a flooding
material from seaward positions and shifted it landward. surface. Rapid fluctuations in relative sea level superimposed upon a lower
In contrast to the change from US1/US2 to US3, the subsequent stages sea-level cycle more likely explain this, as well as the other flooding sur-
in the estuary evolution were not marked by major changes in facies as- faces of the Cujupe Formation (Fig. 12). During an overall transgression,
sociations. Like US3, the US4 and US5 intervals consist mainly of tidal increasing accommodation causes rapid (high-frequency) rises to be ex-
channels, tidal shoals, and sand flats, and bay-fill (tidal-bar) deposits, which aggerated, whereas falls are minimized (Mitchum and Van Wagoner 1991).
are typical of tide-dominated estuaries. Despite the similarities in environ- As a result, fluvial incision and subaerial exposure are less extensive during
mental settings, however, units US4 and US5 are considered to represent the TST and HST (Mitchum and Van Wagoner 1991). Rather, exaggerated
distinct depositional stages in the evolution of the estuarine incised valley, rises lead to the formation of prominent flooding surfaces, similar to those
for two main reasons. First, this interpretation is suggested by the laterally in the Cujupe Formation. If high-frequency cycles superimposed upon an

overall early HST explain the flooding surfaces in this unit, then the strati- changes in tidal conditions, and consequently in the character of the de-
graphic intervals bounded by these surfaces are parasequences (cf. Van positional facies. This is demonstrated by the deposits of the Cujupe For-
Wagoner et al. 1990) formed during periods of decreased rates of sea-level mation, where this transition is accompanied by a dramatic change from a
rise or stillstands following rapid transgression (Fig. 12). wave-dominated to a tide-dominated estuary.
Progradation in the upper unit culminated in a period of subaerial ex-
posure and development of an extensive lateritic soil horizon (L5; Figs. 9; ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
11E), attributed to a period of relative sea-level fall. The fall in sea level
was of sufficient magnitude to generate an unconformity (i.e., sequence The writer thanks the Brazilian National Science Council (CNPq), the Goeldi
boundary) at the top of the Cujupe Formation (US5). During this erosion, Museum (MPEG), the Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center (EMARC),
deposits formed in the HST of the incised valley fill were partly removed. Sigma Xi, the Walker Van-Riper Funds, and the Graduate School of the University
of Colorado for providing financial support during the field work. Dr. Mary Kraus,
Dr. W. Truckenbrodt, A.N. Rodrigues, and J. Anaisse are acknowledged for their
ORIGIN OF THE PALEOVALLEY valuable discussions and field assistance. The author is also grateful to Dr. J.A.
MacEachern and Dr. G. Nadon for their valuable suggestions and comments, which
A variety of factors promote valley incision (Schumm and Ethridge helped improve the manuscript. This paper is a contribution to the IGCP Project
1994), but relative sea-level fall, associated with eustasy and/or tectonism, 381, South Atlantic Mesozoic Correlations.
is believed to be the primary cause of most of the incised valleys docu-
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