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2003-04 AAPG Distinguished Lecture

Abstract
J. F. RICK SARG
ExxonMobil Exploration Co. Houston, TX
Funded by the AAPG Foundation

Carbonate Sequence Sratigraphy Future Directions for Exploration and Development


The introduction of the seismic tool and t h e depositional sequence concepts derived from it have revolutionized the way sedimentary geologists view carbonate stratigraphy. Seismic analysis of carbonate strata has most recently concentrated on the generation of more accurate and robust stratigraphic frameworks, and has provided the means to study large-scale carbonate platform architecture. New insight into carbonate platform evolution has been gained from outcrops by describing subseismic geometric and facies relationships within these larger frameworks. Carbonate platform systems are dynamic and react rapidly to global changes in sea level and local structural subsidence. In addition, sediment supply and type, basin margin relief, and slope declivity all play major roles in controlling sequence architecture. Current and future work in the stratigraphy of carbonate systems is focused on gaining a more complete appreciation of the origin of sequence defining surfaces and their accompanying stratal units. Many workers have observed that sequences often depart from the original published models. This is mostly because of differences within their lowstand systems tracts. Lowstand systems span a continuum of depositional geometries. Relief and slope-angle constitute spatial variations in accommodation space. These spatial factors are especially important in carbonate sequences where the organic growth potential of platforms can generate a range of depositional slopes from near vertical escarpments to ramps of less than 1. The thickness and volume of carbonate lowstand systems are dependent on the accommodation potential on the slope, and on the existence of shallow, normal marine environmental conditions conducive to carbonate growth (i.e., a healthy carbonate factory). Where slopes are steep, the carbonate refugia are limited and deposition is diminished. The lowstand is recorded in subaerial features on the shelf, erosion at t h e platform margin. Deposition occurs in the form of debris wedges at the toe-of-slope and/or small, in-situ carbonate banks perched at or below the platform edge. The isolated platforms of the Pleistocene of t h e Caribbean and the Miocene of Southeast Asia show this type of sequence geometry. At the other end of t h e spectrum, low-angle depositional slopes provide an opportunity for larger, more widespread refugia and significant carbonate deposition. The Paleozoic and Mesozoic-aged ramps and low-angle banks of t h e continental interiors (e.g., Devonian of Western Canada, Permian of West Texas, Mesozoic of t h e Arabian Platform) provide examples where significant downslope lowstand deposition occurs. Reservoir, source, and seal lithofacies are distributed systematically within sequence architectures. Pore systems within carbonate reservoirs are complex and record both depositional and diagenetic controls. The sequence framework provides a predictive way to map lithofacies that are reservoirprone (e.g., grainstone shoals, reefal rudstones and floatstones, etc.), and to qualitatively delineate t h e early diagenetic history of a platform (e.g., subaerial exposure at sequence boundaries). Future development of 2-D and 3-D numerical process-response models, physical sediment models, combined with outcrop dimensional data, and forward seismic models will help quantitatively populate geometrically constrained stratigraphic models, and validate seismic predictions of stratigraphy and lithofacies. In addition, the sequence framework provides constraints for geologic modeling in exploration and production settings. The introduction of 3-D seismic, seismically-derived attributes (e. g., amplitude, frequency, phase), and visualization technology integrated with rock physics, core, and outcrop lithofacies dimensions provide new opportunities to delineate meter to decimeter-scale stratigraphy. Attribute and seismic facies are mapped as 3-D volumes and give a detailed view of individual stratal bodies. Efforts to significantly improve seismic imaging of carbonates sequences are critical to any advances in t h e area of volume and attribute interpretation. Unique aspects of carbonates, including high impedance, lack

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American Association of Petroleum Geologists

of bedding in reefal lithofaces, the chaotic character of karsted carbonate terrains, and their intimate association with mobile evaporites in many basins a l l present challenges to seismic acquisition and processing. In particular, carbonates are, in many places, interbedded with much slower siliciclastics and t h e seismic is susceptible to severe multiple problems. Advances in imaging will be followed by advances in understanding carbonate platform development. Future breakthroughs in analysis of carbonate strata will focus on methods to populate geologic and

flow-simulation models with integrated well- and seismic-derived rock property data. Volume interpretation techniques using seismic attributes, coherency, impedance, and image attributes will assist in the prediction of pore systems in carbonate reservoirs. Calibration of seismic attributes with reservoir rock properties will provide a more quantitative approach to geologic and flow simulation modeling. Three-dimensional visualization of seismic will provide constraints for diagenetic and 3-D numerical modeling, and for imaging fracture systems.

Predictability of the Stratigrahic Record From the Outcrop to Multiple Seismic Attributes Past, Present, Future
Over the last 50 years, the introduction of t h e seismic tool and depositional sequence concepts derived from it have revolutionized the way sedimentary geologists view stratigraphy. The fundamental driving principles of sequence stratigraphy are, however, grounded in observations from the outcrop. Most importantly, they derive from, (1) Slosss recognition of large-scale continent wide unconformities that serve to divide sedimentary strata into sequences; and (2) the observations by Wheeler and Campbell that there are time-significant physical surfaces, a t the bedset and larger-scale, that are correlative over broad regions. Facies are then interpreted within this physical stratigraphic framework. Vail recognized that seismic reflections follow these correlative surfaces in the rocks and are not the massive time transgressive formational boundaries. Utilizing discontinuities as a basis for packaging sedimentary rocks, the stratigraphic record can be divided into a series of depositional sequences that contain a repeated pattern of lithofacies. Furthermore, it appears that, even though basins record their own tectonic history, similar-aged sequences are present in different basins around t h e globe. This has led to the hypothesis t h a t depositional sequences are sea level driven and globally synchronous. Results from the current Ocean Drilling Program suggest that there is global synchronicity for Neogene-aged sequences, and the new Drilling Program, set to commence in 2005, will have riser capability and will continue to provide a rigorous test of the Vail global sea level hypothesis. Over the last 20 years, new outcrop analysis and the introduction of numerical sedimentary modeling have further developed and enhanced the original seismic stratigraphic concepts. Using numerical modeling, Jervey and Vail derived the accommodation concept, which predicts that the first-order controls on stratigraphy are subsidence, sea level, and sediment supply. A new generation of outcrop study has used seismic-scale exposures to describe stratigraphic architecture and lithofacies relationships in classic areas like the Guadalupe Mountains, the Western Interior of the U. S., and the Pyrenees and t h e Dolomites of Western Europe. Physical criteria are well established for the recognition of sequence boundaries and the distinguishing characteristics of sequences in both siliciclastic and carbonate terrains. The recognition of repeated and predictive stratigraphic patterns has emerged from the sum of this global research effort. Siliciclastic and carbonate depositional sequences, for example, can be partitioned into linked contemporaneous depositional systems or systems tracts. For siliciclastics and in mixed carbonate/clastic sequences, a basin restricted or lowstand systems tract is, in many places, characterized by thick wedges of gravity-flow dominated sediments, deposited during times of sediment bypass across the shelf and fed by incised river or shelf-edge-restricted deltas. Diminished insitu carbonate bank and platform growth may occur i f oceanographic conditions conducive to organic productivity persist in downslope positions. Midsequence, organic-rich, clay or carbonate-prone condensed sections overlie these deposits and are correlative updip to retrogradational transgressive sandstones or grainstone shoals (i. e., transgressive systems tract). Thick aggrading to prograding highstand carbonate platforms, or siliciclastic deltas and shoreline deposits downlap the transgressive systems. Sediment supply and type, basin margin relief, and slope declivity all play major roles in controlling sequence architecture. Sequences often depart from t h e published Vail model, mostly because of differences within their lowstand systems tracts. Lowstand geometries can include lower slope and basin floor deposits that are physically separated from a prograding shelf-edge complex. Alternatively, t h e prograding shelf-edge complex can directly overlay t h e slope and basin floor deposits. In all cases, two bypass surfaces may form in association with the lowstand system. The first is a basinward dipping surface onlapped by the slope and basin floor deposits. The second is a more horizontal surface of bypass/erosion within the prograding complex. When both are present, the two surfaces have engendered debate over where to place the sequence boundary. Using t h e approach of Mitchum, the first surface is the type I sequence boundary, because it is onlapped by basin restricted sediments deposited during base level f a l l and lowstand. The upper surface is an intra-lowstand bypass surface. It forms within the prograding complex of the lowstand systems tract when sediments infill t h e accommodation space immediately basinward of t h e previous highstand depositional-shelf edge.

This has been demonstrated by new experimental work at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory of the University of Minnesota where stratigraphy was formed in a tank under controlled rates of sediment supply, subsidence and base-level change. During a rapid fall in base level, significant sediment loading destabilized t h e stratigraphy, triggering major growth faulting and t h e transfer of a significant volume of sediment into t h e deeper part of the tank. This fill then formed t h e undercarriage for a well-developed prograding complex, which in the latter stages of the f a l l advanced from the mouth of an incised valley and infilled the remaining accommodation space. As i t prograded during the fall, the top of this complex was eroded. Then, as base level turned and started to rise, erosion ceased and the prograding complex began to aggrade, leading to depositional onlap back across t h e surface of erosion and its preservation within t h e lowstand systems tract. Consequently, the intralowstand bypass surface is significant in that it records the erosional regression of the shoreline within t h e lowstand system during a relative fall in sea level. Furthermore, it is related to the sequence boundary in that the two merge at or landward of the former highstand depositional-shelf edge. Natural examples of lowstand systems tracts containing well-developed, extensive intra-lowstand bypass surfaces include the Brushy Canyon Formation in the Permian basin (USA), and the Miocene strata preserved beneath the Niger and New Jersey continental shelves. Like the experimental stratigraphy, these strata formed along basin margins having relatively low relief and high sediment supply. At the other end of the spectrum are basin margins with high relief and sediment supplies too low to infill the accommodation space seaward of t h e depositional shelf edge. These margins are characterized by small prograding complexes perched on the uppermost slope and detached from deeper deposits on the lower slope and basin floor by slumps, slide scars and submarine canyons. Examples include the Plio-Pleistocene strata along the Gulf of Mexico and New Jersey continental slopes (USA), as well as the Paleogene sequences of the North Sea. In addition to sediment supply and relief, basin margin slope also affects type I lowstand geometries. The Gulf of Mexico and New Jersey Plio-Pleistocene margins, as well as the Paleogene North Sea margin are steep, which appears to have contributed to their prograding complexes being small and perched. In contrast, the ramp settings prevalent in the middle Cretaceous of the Western Interior of North America have low relief and a low slope. And along these margins, type I lowstand systems tracts with extensive intra-lowstand bypass surfaces are common. This is because the low dip of the ramps significantly limited the accommodation space immediately seaward of t h e depositional shelf edge. And this space was often completely infilled with sediments before a relative fall in sea level had ended. This scenario was, in fact, reproduced during the formation of the experimental stratigraphy mentioned above, but over an earlier, slower change in base level.

Type I lowstand systems tracts thus span a continuum of geometries. At one end of the spectrum are relatively large prograding complexes that contain well-developed intra-lowstand bypass surfaces, and which step out basinward over lower slope and basin floor deposits. At the other end of the spectrum are relatively small prograding complexes that are perched on the uppermost slope and separated from lower slope/basin floor deposits by a mid-slope region of submarine canyons and slope failure. The principal variables that govern where along the spectrum a type I lowstand geometry will form are sediment supply, basin margin relief and basin margin slope. The latter two variables constitute spatial variations in accommodation space, which are different from temporal variations caused by subsidence and sea level change. These spatial factors are especially important in carbonate sequences where the organic growth potential of platforms can generate a range of depositional slopes from near vertical to ramps of less than 1. The thickness and volume of carbonate lowstand systems are dependent on the existence of environmental conditions conducive to carbonate growth (i.e., carbonate refugia). Where slopes are steep, the refugia are limited and deposition is diminished. The lowstand is recorded in subaerial features on the shelf, erosion a t the platform margin, and by deposition of debris wedges at the toe-of-slope and small in-situ carbonate banks perched at or below the platform edge. The isolated platforms of the Pleistocene of the Caribbean and the Miocene of Southeast Asia show this type of lowstand geometry. At the other end of the spectrum, low-angle depositional slopes provide the opportunity for larger, more widespread refugia and significant carbonate deposition. The Devonian of Western Canada and the Permian of West Texas provide examples where significant downslope lowstand deposition occurs. As the next decade begins and with the extension of petroleum exploration into the deepwater realm of t h e continental slope, major improvements in the seismic tool portend a bright future for sedimentary research. Stratigraphers, committed to an integrated use of technology, have an unprecedented array of tools a t their disposal. The introduction of 3-D seismic, seismically-derived attributes (e. g., amplitude, frequency, phase), and visualization technology integrated with rock physics, core, and outcrop lithofacies dimensions provide the opportunity to delineate meter to decimeter-scale stratigraphy. Attribute and seismic facies are mapped as 3-D volumes and give a detailed view of individual stratal bodies. This is especially dramatic in the Neogene-aged deepwater gravity flow deposits that have become t h e current focus for deepwater hydrocarbon exploration. Development of 2-D and 3-D numerical process-response models, physical sediment models, outcrop dimensional data, and forward seismic models help populate geometrically-constrained stratigraphic models, and validate seismic predictions of stratigraphy and lithofacies.

Sequence Stratigraphy, Sedimentology, and Economic Importance of Evaporites and Evaporite-Cabonate Transitions
World class hydrocarbon accumulations occur in many ancient evaporite-related basins. Seals and traps of such accumulations are, in many cases, controlled by the stratigraphic distribution of carbonate-evaporite facies transitions. Evaporites may occur in each of t h e systems tracts within depositional sequences. Condensed sections of organic-rich black lime mudstones that occur in basinal areas seaward of associated transgressive and highstand carbonate platforms have high preservation potential in evaporitic basins can be significant sources of hydrocarbons. Thick evaporite successions are best developed during sea level lowstands due to evaporative drawdown. Type 1 lowstand evaporite systems are characterized by thick wedges that fill basin centers, and onlap basin margins. Very thick successions (i.e., saline giants) represent 2nd-order supersequence set (20-50 m. y.) lowstand systems that cap basin fills, and provide the ultimate top seals for the hydrocarbons contained within such basins. Large-scale marine evaporites have been deposited in the Phanerozoic when tectonic-eustatic-climatic conditions have combined to provide basin restriction and net evaporative conditions. These halitedominated saline giants generally occur in low-latitude regions at distinct times in earth history that are characterized by widespread withdrawal of marine waters from continental shelves (i.e., 2nd-order sea level lowstands), aridity, and where basin architecture and the surrounding landmasses provided restriction of marine waters. The saline giants have occurred under both greenhouse and icehouse conditions. They are not sudden events, but are often preceded by cyclic carbonate-evaporite sequences that reflect progressive climatic deterioration and basin restriction. Conditions conducive to large-scale evaporite deposition are not present in the Recent. Sea level is at highstand, global oceans are well circulated, continental dispersion is at a maximum and there is little potential for basin restriction in low-latitudes. Saline giants can be grouped into three tectonic settings that are prone to hydrographic restriction: continental interior sag basins; subbasins within postorogenic distal forelands; and late-stage syn-rift basins partially connected to oceanic regimes. The Lower Paleozoic giants occur in continental interior sag basins, and were deposited in the Early-Middle Cambrian and Middle Ordovician (Siberia), the Late Silurian (Michigan basin), and the Middle Devonian (Western Canada). The Late Paleozoic and Late Neogene giants occur in post-orogenic distal foreland basins. These include the Middle Pennsylvanian Paradox salts of t h e Four Corners region, western US, the Middle Permian of the PriCaspian, and the Late Permian along a transhighland region that stretched from west Texas through Northern Europe and Arabia to central Russia. Thick salt deposits occur during the Mesozoic (LowerMiddle Triassic, Middle Jurassic, and Aptian) in latestage syn-rift Atlantic basins. Evaporite-carbonate transitions at the 3rd-order and higher scale occur in each of the systems tracts and can result in hydrocarbon seal and trap potential. Where reservoir-bearing slope carbonate buildups occur, lowstand evaporites that onlap and overlap these buildups show a lateral facies mosaic directly related to the paleo-relief of the buildups. This facies mosaic, as exemplified in the Silurian of the Michigan basin, ranges from nodular mosaic anhydrite of supratidal sabkha origin deposited over the crests of the buildups, to downslope subaqueous facies of bedded massive/mosaic anhydrite and allochthonous dolomite-anhydrite breccias. Facies transitions near the updip onlap edges of evaporite wedges can provide lateral seals to hydrocarbons. Porous dolomites at t h e updip edges of lowstand evaporites will trap hydrocarbons where they onlap nonporous platform slope deposits. The Desert Creek Member of t h e Paradox Formation illustrates this transition. On t h e margins of the giant Aneth oil field in southeastern Utah, separate downdip oil pools have accumulated where dolomudstones and dolowackestones with microcrystalline porosity onlap the underlying highstand platform slope. Where lowstand carbonate units exist in arid basins, the updip facies change from carbonates to evaporite-rich facies can also provide traps for hydrocarbons. The change from porous dolomites composed of high-energy, shallow water grainstones and packstones to nonporous evaporitic lagoonal dolomite and sabkha anhydrite occurs in the Upper Permian San Andres/Grayburg sequences of the Pemian basin. This facies change provides the trap for secondary oil pools on the basinward flanks of fields that are productive from highstand facies identical to the lowstand dolograinstones. Type 2 lowstand systems, like the Smackover Limestone of the Gulf of Mexico, show a similar relationship. Commonly, these evaporite systems are a facies mosaic of salina and sabkha evaporites admixed with wadi siliciclastics. They overlie and seal highstand carbonate platforms containing reservoir facies of shoalwater nonskeletal and skeletal grainstones. Further basinward these evaporites change facies into similar porous platform facies, and contain separate hydrocarbon traps. Transgressions in arid settings over underfilled platforms (e.g., Zechstein (Permian) of Europe; Ferry Lake Anhydrite (Cretaceous), Gulf of Mexico) can result in deposition of alternating cyclic carbonates and

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evaporites in broad, shallow subaqueous hypersaline environments. Evaporites include bedded and palmate gypsum layers. Mudstones and wackestones are deposited in mesosaline, shallow subtidal to low intertidal environments during periodic flooding of t h e platform interior. Highstand systems tracts are characterized by thick successions of m-scale, brining upward parasequences in platform interior settings. The Seven Rivers Formation (Guadalupian) of the Permian basin typifies this transition. An intertonguing of carbonate

and sulfates is interpreted to occur in a broad, shallow subaqueous hypersaline shelf lagoon behind the main restricting shelf-edge carbonate complex. Underlying paleodepositional highs appear to control the position of the initial facies transition. Periodic flooding of t h e shelf interior results in widespread carbonate deposition comprised of mesosaline, skeletal-poor peloid dolowackestones/mudstones. Progressive restriction due to active carbonate deposition and/or an environment of net evaporation causes brining upward and deposition of lagoonal gypsum.

J. Frederick Rick Sarg


Education: 1969 University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; BS in Geology 1970 University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; MS in Geology 1976 University of Wisconsin, Madison; Ph.D. in Geology, Carbonate Sedimentology Experience: 1985-1988 Exxon Production Research Co., Supervisor, Carbonate Facies Section Research Associate, stratigraphic research group 1976-1985. 1988-1990 Exxon Co. USA,Supervisor, Lower Paleozoic Exploration Group, Permian Basin, Western Exploration Division, 1990-1992 Independent consulting geologist/geophysicist specializing in reservoir, source, and seal prediction using sequence stratigraphy and carbonate facies/diagenesis Mobil E&P Technical Center, Associate Research Advisor, Dallas, Texas 1997-2000 Mobil Technology Center, Scientist, Upstream Strategic Research Group 2000-present ExxonMobil Exploration Co., Houston, Texas; Stratigraphy Coordinator Awards: 2002-03 1984 1988-89 1992 AAPG International Distinguished Lecturer, Middle East Best Paper Award SEPM Mid-Year Meeting, San Jose CA . AAPG Distinguished Lecturer . A.I. Levorsen Award, Best Paper, SW Section, AAPG Mtg. . Committees and Activities: Member Ocean Drilling Program (ODP): served on Sediments and Ocean History Panel, 1984-88; member Editorial Review Board for Scientific Results ODP Leg 133 - Northeast Australia Continental Margin, 1991; member Sediments & Geochemical Processes Panel, Ocean Drilling Program, 1993-95. Co-editor SEPM Special Publication No. 44, Controls on Carbonate Platform Development, 1989. Co-editor AAPG Memoir 57 Carbonate Sequence Stratigraphy, 1993. Associate Editor, AAPG Bulletin, 1985-1993. Elected secretary/treasurer Society Sedimentary Geology (SEPM), 1998-2000 Member, Division Review Committee, Earth & Planetary Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory. Member, SCICOM (Scientific Committee) Ocean Drilling Program 2000-03 Publications: Sarg, J.F., 1981, Petrology of the carbonate-evaporite facies transition of the Seven Rivers Formation(Guadalupian, Permian) southeast New Mexico; Jour. Sed. Pet., v.51,p.7-96 Sarg, J.F., 1988, Carbonate sequence stratigraphy; in, Sea-Level Changes: An Integrated Approach, C. Wilgus (ed), SEPM Special Publication No. 42, p. 155-181. Sarg, J.F., J.R. Markello, and L. J. Weber, 1999, The second-order cycle, carbonate platform growth, and reservoir, source, and trap prediction; in, Advances in Carbonate Sequence Stratigraphy: Applications to Reservoirs, Outcrops, and Models, SEPM Spec.Pub. #63, p.11-34. Sarg, J.F., 2001, The sequence stratigraphy, sedimentology, and economic importance of evaporite-carbonate transitions: a review; Sedimentary Geology, v. 140, p. 9-42. Oral & Poster Presentations Sarg, J. F., 1992, Tectonics, eustasy, and sequence stratigraphy - the Middle PennsylvanianWolfcampian of the Permian basin; Southwest Section AAPG Mtg., Midland, TX. Sarg, J. F., 1995a, Carbonate sequence stratigraphy - a current assessment; keynote address International

Professional Affiliations: Active member AAPG and SEPM; GSA Fellow; Life member Permian Basin Section, SEPM.

Symposium on Sequence Stratigraphy in Southeast Asia, Indonesian Petroleum Assoc., Jakarta. Sarg, J. F., L. J. Weber, and J. R. Markello, 1996, The second-order cycle, paleoclimate, paleoceanography, and carbonate platform growth clues from the ancient; keynote address Carbonates and Global Change: An Interdisciplinary Approach, SEPM/IAS Research Conference, Wildhaus, Switzerland. Sarg, J. F., 1998, The sequence stratigraphy, sedimentology, and economic importance of

evaporite-carbonate transitions; IAS Congress, Spain. Sarg, J. F., and L. J. Weber, 1999, Carbonate platform growth in an active tectonic setting sequence stratigraphy, tectonic history, and evolution of Miocene reefs, Gulf of Papua, Papua New Guinea; poster, Bathurst Conference, Cambridge. Sarg, J. F., 2000, The saline giants sedimentary extremes that are part of the earths rhythms; abst. with programs, GSA Annual Mtg, Reno.