Alignment of saline springs with evaporite karst structures in northeast Alberta, western Canada: analogue for cretaceous hypogene brine seeps to the surface

  • Paul Broughton Broughton@shawcable.com
Keywords: saline seeps, Athabasca River Valley, McMurray formation, prairie evaporite

Abstract

Meteoric and glacial meltwater charged groundwater, mixed with dissolved salts from Devonian sources at depth, discharged as saline springs along topographic lows of the Athabasca River Valley, which downcuts into the Cretaceous Athabasca oil sands deposit in northeast Alberta, western Canada. These Quaternary saline seeps have TDS measurements, isotope signatures and other chemical characteristics indicative of the groundwater flows coming in contact with Prairie Evaporite (M. Devonian) salt beds, 200 m below the surface. Migrations up-section of groundwater with dissolved chloride and sulphate salts occurred along salt dissolution collapse breccia zones that cross-cut Upper Devonian limestone strata. Seeps discharged along the karstic Devonian limestone paleotopography, the unconformity surface flooring the Lower Cretaceous McMurray Formation. Saline to brine springs along the Athabasca River Valley have TDS measurements that can exceed 100,000 mg/L. Quaternary salt removal was insignificant compared to the voluminous removal of the 80-130 m thick salt section for 1000s km2 during the Early Cretaceous configuration of the Devonian paleotopography, which partially controlled depositional patterns of the overlying McMurray Formation, principal host rock of the Athabasca oil sands. Little is known of the storage or disposition of voluminous brines that would have resulted from this regional-scale removal of the salt beds below the Athabasca deposit during the Cordilleran configuration of the foreland Alberta Basin. Holocene dissolution trends and discharges at the surface as saline springs are proposed as a modern analogue for voluminous Early Cretaceous brine seeps to the surface along salt dissolution collapse breccia zones, concurrent with deposition of the McMurray Formation. This model links several characteristics of the McMurray Formation as responses to Aptian brine seeps to the surface. These include: (1) the emplacement of a drainage-line silcrete along the margins of the Assiniboia PaleoValley, now partially exhumed by the Athabasca River Valley, (2) distribution of brackish-water burrowing organisms, and (3) diagenesis of calcite-cemented sand intervals.

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Published
2021-05-31
How to Cite
1.
Broughton P. Alignment of saline springs with evaporite karst structures in northeast Alberta, western Canada: analogue for cretaceous hypogene brine seeps to the surface. AC [Internet]. 2021May31 [cited 2021Jun.21];50(1). Available from: https://ojs.zrc-sazu.si/carsologica/article/view/8763
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