Belt Supergroup

Belt Supergroup
Stratigraphic range: Mesoproterozoic
Type Geological supergroup
Sub-units Many
Underlies Flathead Formation
Overlies Archean and Paleoproterozoic rocks
Thickness up to 30 kilometres (19 mi)
Primary Mudstone, argillite
Other Sandstone, quartzite, conglomerate, intrusive rocks
Region Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming
Country United States
Type section
Named for Big Belt Mountains, Montana

The Belt Supergroup is an assemblage of primarily fine-grained sedimentary rocks and mafic intrusive rocks of late Precambrian (Mesoproterozoic) age. It was named after the Big Belt Mountains in west-central Montana. It is present in western Montana and northern Idaho, with minor occurrences in northwestern Washington and western Wyoming.[1] It extends into Canada where the equivalent rocks are called the Purcell Supergroup and are exposed in southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta.[2] Spectacular outcrops of these rocks can be seen in Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana[3] and in Waterton Lakes National Park in southwestern Alberta.[4]

Lithology and sedimentology

The Belt Supergroup is dominated by fine-grained sedimentary rocks, primarily mudstones, siltstones, fine-grained quartzose sandstones and limestones. Most have undergone weak metamorphism to greenschist facies, and as a result the mudrocks are commonly classified as argillite and the sandstones as quartzites.[5] The Belt Supergroup also includes lesser amounts of coarser grained sandstones[6] and conglomerates.[7] Mafic intrusive rocks are present locally in the lower portion.[8]

Sedimentation occurred between 1470 and 1400 Ma (million years) ago.[8] Sedimentary structures are well preserved in most of the Belt rocks despite their great age. The sedimentation is unusual in that 1) there is an abundance of fine-grained sediment and very little coarser sediment, 2) there is a lack of sequence boundaries that are common in Phanerozoic sediments, and 3) cyclic and rhythmic deposition occurred over long periods of time.[1][5] The Belt Supergroup is also noted for "Molar Tooth" structures in carbonates (a bacterial degassing structure) and abundant stromatolites of various types.

Paleogeography and environment of deposition

Paleogeographic reconstructions indicate that the Belt Supergroup accumulated in a fault-bounded rift basin that existed where the North American craton and another landmass were joined in a supercontinent called Columbia/Nuna.[6] The basin appears to have been a closed "lacustrine" environment, or at least not completely open marine.[1][5] Depositional environments are thought to have ranged from ancient floodplains and exposed mudflats to deep water.[5]

Evidence of the basin-bounding faults exists on all sides of the Belt basin except the west, which rifted away during subsequent contintntal breakup. The identity of the joined landmass remains controversial. The Siberian craton, Australia and eastern Antarctica have all been suggested based rock ages and paleomagnetic information.[8][9]

Stratigraphy and distribution

The Belt Supergroup reaches thicknesses of up to 30 km and is present in western Montana and northern Idaho, with minor occurrences in northwestern Washington and western Wyoming. Because of this widespread extent, the rock types and formation names of the Belt Supergroup vary depending upon location. In western Montana and northern Idaho the Belt is divided into the following four groups[1] (youngest to oldest):

The Belt Supergroup extends into Canada where the equivalent rocks are called the Purcell Supergroup, and are exposed in southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta.[2]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Lori Tapanila and Paul Link. "Mesoproterozoic Belt Supergroup". Digital Geology of Idaho. Idaho State University, Department of Geosciences. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  2. 1 2 Glass, D.J. (editor) 1997. Lexicon of Canadian Stratigraphy, vol. 4, Western Canada including eastern British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba. Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, Calgary, 1423 p. on CD-ROM. ISBN 0-920230-23-7.
  3. Alt, D.D. and Hyndman, D.W. 1986. Roadside geology of Montana. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, Montana, 427 p. ISBN 0-87842-202-1.
  4. Gordy, P.L., Frey, F.R. and Norris, D.K. 1977. Geological guide for the CSPG 1977 Waterton-Glacier Park Field Conference. Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, Calgary, Alberta, 93 p.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Schieber, J. 1990. Significance of styles of epicontinental shale sedimentation in the Belt basin, Mid-Proterozoic of Montana, U.S.A. Sedimentary Geology, v. 69, p. 297-312.
  6. 1 2 Schieber, J., 1989. The origin of the Neihart Quartzite, a basal deposit of the mid-Proterozoic Belt Supergroup, Montana, USA. Geological Magazine, v. 126, p. 271-281.
  7. McMannis, W.J., 1963. LaHood Formation—a coarse facies of the Belt Series in southwestern Montana. Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 74, p.407-436.
  8. 1 2 3 Evans, K.V., Aleinikoff, J.N., Obradovich, J.D. and Fanning, C.M. 2000. SHRIMP U-Pb geochronology of volcanic rocks, Belt Supergroup, western Montana: evidence for rapid deposition of sedimentary strata. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 37, p.1287-1300.
  9. "Authigenic monazite and detrital zircon dating from the Proterozoic Rocky Cape Group, Tasmania: Links to the Belt-Purcell Supergroup, North America". Precambrian Research. 250: 50–67. 2014. doi:10.1016/j.precamres.2014.05.025.
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