Main content area

Estimation of source area, river paleo-discharge, paleoslope, and sediment budgets of linked deep-time depositional systems and implications for hydrocarbon potential

Bhattacharya, Janok P., Copeland, Peter, Lawton, Timothy F., Holbrook, John
Earth-science reviews 2016 v.153 pp. 77-110
basins, bedload, climate, coasts, drainage, gravel, provenance, river deltas, rivers, sand, shorelines, tectonics, valleys, watersheds, Canada, Mississippi
The source-to-sink (S2S) concept is focused on quantification of the various components of siliciclastic sedimentary systems from initial source sediment production areas, through the dispersal system, to deposition within a number of potential ultimate sedimentary sinks, and has more recently been applied to deep-time stratigraphic systems. Sequence-stratigraphic analysis is a key first step that allows depositional systems to be correlated and mapped, within a time-stratigraphic framework, such that fluvial transport systems can be linked to down-dip shorelines, shelf and deep-water deposits and interpreted in the context of allogenic processes. More recently, attempts have been made to quantify catchment areas for ancient depositional systems, using scaling relationships of modern systems. This also helps predict the size of linked depositional systems, such as rivers, deltas and submarine fans, along the S2S tract.The maximum size of any given depositional system, such as a river, delta, or submarine fan, is significantly controlled by the area, relief, and climate regime of the source area, which in turn may link to the plate tectonic and paleogeographic setting. Classic provenance studies, and more recent use of detrital geochronology, including zircons, provide critical information about source areas, and place limits on catchment area. Provenance studies, especially when linked to thermochronometry also provide key information about rates of exhumation of source areas and the link to the tectonic setting.In this paper the techniques for estimation of water and sediment paleodischarge and paleo-drainage area are outlined, and sediment budgets are calculated for a number of Mesozoic systems, primarily from western North America. The relevance for hydrocarbon exploration and production is discussed for each example.In Mesozoic Western Interior basins of North America, extensive outcrop and subsurface data allow the largest trunk rivers to be identified, typically within incised valleys. Thickness, grain size, and sedimentary structures can be used to infer slope and flow velocities, and using width estimations, water and sediment paleodischarge can be calculated. River paleoslope can also be independently measured from stratigraphic-geometric considerations and used to assess paleo-river flow. Paleodischarge in turn is used to estimate the size of the catchment source area. Paleodischarge of rivers can also be estimated independently by integrating estimates of catchment source area, for example by using detrital zircons integrated with paleoclimate.The catchment areas of North America evolved significantly during the late Mesozoic. During the Jurassic–Early Cretaceous, fluvial systems consisted of continental-scale low slope (S=10−4), axially drained rivers, forming the 40-m-deep channels in the Mannville Group in Canada, which now host the supergiant heavy-oil-sands reserves. During the times of maximum transgression of the Cretaceous Seaway, such as the Turonian and Campanian, the western North American foreland basin was characterized by smaller-scale (typically 10-m deep), steeper gradient (S=10−3) sand and gravel bedload rivers, dominated by transverse drainages in the rising Cordillera. This created a number of smaller river-delta S2S systems along the coast. As the Laramide Orogeny progressed, the Western Interior Seaway receded, and by the Paleocene the modern continental-scale drainage of North America was largely established with a major continental division separating south-flowing Mississippi drainages from north-flowing systems.The integration of paleodischarge estimates with provenance analysis enables the improved use of the sedimentary record to make estimates about the entire S2S system, as opposed to primarily the depositional component. Clinothem stacking relationships and isopach mapping of stratigraphic volumes have also been integrated with chronostratigraphic data to analyze long-term S2S sediment budgets. A more quantitative approach to estimating the scale of erosional, transport and depositional components of sedimentary systems, especially in the context of linked source and depositional areas, also puts constraints on the size and scale of potential hydrocarbon reservoirs and thus has significant economic value.