Airborne lidar-aided comparative facies architecture of Yates Formation (Permian) middle to outer shelf depositional systems, McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico and west Texas
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The eastern side of the Guadalupe Mountains, located in New Mexico and west Texas, represents an erosional profile along the Capitan reef margin. A complete shelf-to-basin exposure of the Upper Permian Capitan shelf margin is found on the north wall of North McKittrick Canyon, which is nearly perpendicular to the Capitan reef margin. An excellent 2-D sequence stratigraphic framework for upper Permian backreef facies has been developed by previous workers for North McKittrick Canyon (Tinker, 1998) and Slaughter Canyon (Osleger, 1998), forming the basis for observations in this study. The goal of this study is to describe the sequence stratigraphic architecture of the Yates Formation, focusing on the Y4-Y6 high-frequency sequences (HFSs) found in the middle to outer shelf depositional systems, and to illustrate the use of airborne lidar data to quantitatively map at the cycle-scale. Seven measured sections were taken in North McKittrick Canyon. From airborne lidar, 3-D geometries of key sedimentary and structural features were mapped in Polyworks, in addition to the sequence boundaries delineating the Yates 4-6 HFSs. In general, major cycles exhibit asymmetry and shoal upward. Cycle boundaries are sometimes hard to delineate due to amalgamation, particularly in the shelf crest. High-frequency sequences are commonly asymmetric; they deepen and thicken upward toward the maximum flooding surface, and the boundaries between HFSs are usually marked by thick siltstones. Major HFS boundaries can be mapped across the entire dataset, and some component cycles can be observed for minimum distances of one kilometer in an updip-downdip direction. Also, some facies tract dimensions can be estimated directly from the lidar data. Measured sections indicate that the shelf crest facies tract shifts seaward with each successive HFS, while the outer shelf facies tract steps landward. Future work that could be done with the Y4-Y6 HFSs includes 8-10 more measured sections, collection of samples for thin sections, and tracing out of contacts between facies tracts. Extensive lidar data interpretation needs to be done so that digital outcrop models demonstrating facies distributions can be produced. This would enable the development of an outcrop analog model to mixed carbonate-siliciclastic reservoirs, which would be unprecedented in this area.