Copyright ᭧ 2001, SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology) 1527-1404/01/071-913/$03.00
Department of Petroleum Geoscience, University Brunei Darussalam, Tungku Link BE1410, Brunei Darussalam
Dept. of Geology and Petroleum Geology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 3UE, U.K.
e-mail: stef࿞
FIG. 1.—A) Landsat satellite composite image of NE Brunei Darussalam (after Sandal 1996) and B) geological map (after Wilford 1961). The Belait Formation is
dominated by shallow-marine shoreface and tidal sandstones. The Setap Shale Formation (Setap Shales) is mainly composed of shelfal mudstones and shales. Note
pronounced progradational geometries at the base of the Belait Formation on the eastern margin of the Belait Syncline. Black boxes indicate locations of Figures 2 and 4.
ABSTRACT: Kilometer-scale prograding clinoforms associated with
deltas are rarely seen in outcrop; however, one such example is found
in a Miocene sand–shale sequence exposed along the Jerudong anti-
cline in Brunei Darussalam. Regional sequence stratigraphic inter-
pretation shows that large clinoforms at the base of the Miocene Be-
lait delta represent a succession of at least three major sand–shale
sequences. The stratigraphically highest and best exposed sequence
exhibits large slumps and sharp-based detached sand bodies at its
base. Accumulation of these units most likely occurred during a rel-
ative sea-level lowstand. An overlying 1–1.5 km thick shale unit is
interpreted to have developed during subsequent transgressive and
early highstand conditions. Rapid progradation of thick sand-domi-
nated shoreface deposits characterizes the late highstand systems
tract. The clinoforms below show similar depositional geometries:
slumps and thin blankets of shallow-marine sandstones mark the in-
dividual bases, shales and mudstones succeed, and progradational
shoreface and tidal deposits form the top of each clinoform. New
sedimentological and micropaleontological data document that all
sediments (regardless of whether sand- or shale-dominated) formed
in a shoreface to shelfal setting in front of a mud-rich delta. This
differs from previous studies interpreting a continental-slope to deep-
marine depositional environment for all shale-dominated units, and
914 S. BACK ET AL.
FIG. 2.—Three large clinoforms at the base of the Belait delta system interpreted as a stack of three individual sequences. A) Map view of clinoform succession,
approximate ages (after Sandal 1996), and strike and dip of strata. B) Cross-sectional view along strike of section and sequence stratigraphic interpretation; cross section
is flattened on 12.0-Ma surface and strata are restored to horizontal. For location of Section A–AЈ see Figure 4.
FIG. 3.—Progradation of the Belait delta. Curve A shows progradation along a
SE–NW section through the center of the Belait syncline. Curve B shows progra-
dation from south to north along the Jerudong anticline. Gradient changes between
12 and 9 Ma coincide with a major eustatic lowstand. However, changes in progra-
dation rates are also influenced by structural features that either provide (e.g.,
growth-faults) or diminish (e.g., anticlines) accommodation. Progradation pattern
and timing are after Sandal (1996). Eustatic curve is after Haq et al. (1987).
indicates that kilometer-scale clinoforms can develop entirely on the
continental shelf in water depths less than 200 m.
An overall progradational clastic system centered on Brunei Darussalam
(Figs. 1, 2) has developed on the northwestern Borneo margin since the
early Middle Miocene (as reviewed in Sandal 1996). It has many sedi-
mentary and structural similarities with major deltas such as the Niger and
Nile (e.g., McClay et al. 1998). It differs from these systems, however, by
being affected in the hinterland by contemporaneous compressional tecton-
ics (Sandal 1996; Morley et al. 1998). The resulting uplift partially forced
strong delta progradation (Fig. 3) and also folded the older deltaic units.
Consequently, basal deltaic sands overlying marine shales are exposed in
a natural cross section for over 50 km along the approximate sediment
transport direction. Because the early history of large deltas is commonly
buried too deep to be well imaged, this provides a rare opportunity to
visualize the base of a major delta in outcrop.
The study area (Fig. 4) covers the youngest part of a stack of three large
prograding clinoforms (Fig. 2). Depositional geometries resemble in both
scale and internal pattern large-scale clinoforms known from industrial seis-
mic reflection data (e.g., Fulthorpe and Austin 1998). Our field data provide
high-resolution biostratigraphic, sedimentological, and sequence strati-
graphic information and thus allows a detailed view into the internal ar-
chitecture of large siliciclastic clinoforms.
The dominant structural features of onshore Brunei Darussalam are syn-
clines and anticlines with axes that trend oblique (north–south) to the
present-day shoreline (Fig. 1B). These features are interpreted to follow
preexisting faults in the basement that were episodically reactivated by
compression related to the decay in active margin deformation during the
Miocene (Levell 1987). The Jerudong Anticline (Fig. 1B) represents part
of a north–south trending structure over 100 km long formed in sediments
above an inferred basement fault zone (Morley et al. 1998). The Setap
Shale Formation (Oligocene–Recent) forms the core of the anticline and
comprises more than 2 km thick shales with occasionally less indurated,
relatively homogeneous clay intervals, and thin sandstone beds (Sandal
1996). Sandstone-dominated shallow-marine deposits of the adjacent Be-
lait, Berakas, and Limbang Synclines (Fig. 1B) are part of the Middle–Late
Miocene Belait Formation (lithostratigraphic nomenclature from Liechti et
al. 1960, Wilford 1961, and Brondijk 1963). In places, these units pass
laterally into the Setap Shale Formation (Sandal 1996).
Figure 2 illustrates the large-scale depositional architecture and the
strong progradational character of the basal sandstone-dominated units of
FIG. 4.—Geological map of the western flank of the Jerudong Anticline, and
location of microfossil samples (Table 1), Section A–AЈ (Fig. 5), and detailed sed-
imentary logs (Figs. 6, 8).
FIG. 5.—Simplified stratigraphic log A–AЈ through the western flank of the Je-
rudong Anticline illustrating the main sandstone and shale units and variations in
depositional environments (for location see Figure 4). Sequence stratigraphic inter-
pretation shows complete sequence with detached lowstand systems tract (LST),
transgressive systems tract (TST), and highstand systems tract (HST). For detailed
sedimentological information on LST and HST see Figures 6 and 8.
the Belait Formation on the eastern flank of the Belait Syncline. The out-
cropping topset-clinoform profiles show sandstone-dominated units passing
northward into more steeply dipping shale units with interspersed sandstone
blocks. The development of clinoforms 1–3 occurred most likely between
14 Ma and 12 Ma. During this time interval, the shoreface units of the
topset beds prograded approximately 40 km basinward. Figure 3 shows
some key points about the nature of the Middle Miocene to Recent pro-
gradation based on main shifts in the ‘‘shelf edge’’ (actually the delta front)
defined by Brunei Shell from outcrop, well, and seismic reflection data
(Sandal 1996; Watters et al. 1999). The curves show an early phase of
relatively rapid progradation (ϳ 16–12 Ma) followed by a later phase of
slower progradation. The early phase (this study) has no growth faults or
shale diapirism affecting the prograding delta (Fig. 2). Slower progradation
marks the time when the delta reached an unstable underlying substratum
that facilitated the creation of accommodation by growth faulting and
movement of mobile shale. Hence more aggradational stratal patterns de-
veloped. The initial rapid progradation was probably controlled by uplift
of the hinterland. Later compressional features (including the Jerudong an-
ticline) grew within the area of active deltaic sedimentation (Morley et al.
1998) and also influenced sedimentation patterns: stalling of the delta-front
progradation from 12 to 9 Ma on Curve B (Fig. 3) reflects a significant
low in relative sea level likely triggered by contemporaneous growth of the
Jerudong anticline and a major eustatic lowstand.
916 S. BACK ET AL.
FIG. 6.—Sandstone–shale succession capping
slump 3. Log A is 300 m north of Section A–
AЈ, Log B is 100 m south of section (Fig. 4).
Arrows indicate correlating sandstone beds. Log
A is interpreted to have formed in a lower-
shoreface to offshore-transition setting. Localized
occurrence of asymmetric ripples might indicate
current influence during deposition. Log B
shows turbidite sandstones interbedded with
shales. Microfossil samples M4–M6 all indicate
shelfal water depth; deep-water indicators are
absent. Palynological analyses of interbedded
shales show abundance of palm pollen, possibly
indicating a nearby fluvial feeder system. For
outcrop photographs, see Figure 7.
The basal units of the Belait delta are exposed in a broad low-lying
valley between the Belait and Berakas Synclines (Figs. 1, 2 and 4). Several
linear, north–south trending hills lie within shale-dominated units and were
mapped as sandstone ridges by Wilford (1961). These ridges are composed
of slumps (Hutchison 1994), turbidite beds, and shallow marine sandstones
(Fig. 4). Section A–AЈ (Fig. 5) provides a sedimentary log through the
uppermost 2 km of the Setap Shales, from the axis of the Jerudong Anti-
cline into the overlying shallow-marine sandstones of the Belait Formation.
Detailed logs and outcrop photographs of the base and the top of the sed-
imentary succession are shown in Figures 6 to 9. The younging direction
of all strata on the western flank of the anticline is WNW to W.
The base of the section is characterized by uniform, gray, plastic clay-
stones in some places interbedded with thin siltstone layers. Above, ten
separate slump units are identified in outcrop (Fig. 4). The largest slumps
are up to 3 km long and 100–150 m thick. Slump unit 3 is one of the most
spectacularly exposed slumps. It is about 100 m thick and is mainly com-
posed of shales. Thin sandstone blocks and contorted thin-bedded sand-
stones lie within the shale, together with large isoclinally folded sandstone
blocks up to 20 m wide (Fig. 7A). One such block contains a loaded, fine-
to coarse-grained sandstone with conglomerate lenses, interpreted to rep-
resent distributary-channel deposits. The slumped shales contain abundant
fossils, including oysters, gastropods, and other bivalves of shallow marine
origin. In some nodules fossil crabs are preserved. Palynological assem-
blages described by Simmons et al. (1999) consist of moderately rich
spores, occasional mangrove, back-mangrove, freshwater swamp and palm
pollen, and very rare dynocysts. The foraminiferal assemblage is dominated
by agglutinating foraminifera that indicate a ‘‘normal’’ open shelf setting;
planktonic foraminifera are lacking.
Capping slump 3 is a single sandstone bed that is sheet-like and not
folded (Fig. 7A, B). It thins from about 1 m maximum thickness to zero
in places. Locally, convolute bedding occurs. The lower surface of the
sandstone is very undulose and torn, apparently as a result of loading and
fluid escape. Internally, the sandstone displays hummocky (Fig. 7B) and
swaly cross stratification, which suggests its deposition as a storm sand.
More than 20 m of mudstones and siltstones overlie the storm sand. These
units contain thin (Ͻ 0.2 m) interbeds of current-rippled and wave-rippled
sandstones. Feeding traces occur locally, and palynological assemblages
comprise moderately rich spores and occasional mangrove, back-mangrove,
freshwater swamp, and palm pollen. Microfossil analysis of the interbedded
shales indicates that the background fauna of the mudstones is dominated
by an assemblage of agglutinating foraminifera deposited on an open-ma-
rine shelf close to a delta (Table 1). The shale-dominated section is fol-
lowed by an over 30-m-thick succession of sandstones interbedded with
shales. Figure 6 provides two detailed sedimentary logs through these units.
Log A is 300 m north of Section A–AЈ, and Log B is located 100 m south
FIG. 7.—Outcrop photographs of detached lowstand units. A) Large, slumped sandstone block within slump 3 (Fig. 4); capping storm bed is not slumped and continues
over 500 m along strike. B) Hummocky cross-stratification in storm bed capping slump 3. C) Sandstone bed characterized by a massive basal unit (a), parallel laminae
(b), and a rippled unit, (c), at the top. Succession of sedimentary structures matches the A–C divisions of the Bouma sequence. D) Repetitive succession of A–C divisions
of Bouma sequence. For locations of photographs, see Figures 4 and 6.
of the section. On Log A, the average sandstone/mudstone ratio is about
1:1. Medium-grained, well-sorted sandstones 0.2 to 0.5 m thick form
stacked bedsets up to 15 m thick. These sandstones are separated by shale
units up to 5 m thick. Most sandstone beds are characterized by scoured
bases and symmetrical wave ripples with a spacing of 0.15 to 0.2 m at the
tops. This suggests accumulation near the fair-weather wave base, possibly
in a lower shoreface or offshore transition environment (e.g., Harms et al.
1975). In places, however, current ripples and climbing ripples occur, in-
dicating abundant sediment supply in one preferred direction. This might
point to a nearby delta front at which a changing flow depth results in rapid
deposition of suspended sediment. Because microfossil analyses of the in-
terbedded shales provide a ‘‘delta front with slumps’’ signature (likely
deeper than shoreface; see Table 1) we interpret the sands to be formed in
an offshore transition environment (offshore-transition sands). On Log B
(Fig. 6), the sandstone/mudstone ratio is about 2:1. Sandstone-dominated
intervals (7–22 and Ͼ 27 m on the log) are separated by shale beds up to
5 m thick. The sandstones are generally medium- to fine-grained and well
sorted; individual beds are 0.02–1.3 m thick. Most sandstone beds are char-
acterized by sharp bases with loading structures, a massive basal unit fol-
lowed by parallel-laminated sands, and a rippled (symmetrical and asym-
metrical) unit at the top (Fig. 7C, D). Climbing ripples and convolute bed-
ding occur locally. The succession of sedimentary structures matches the
A–C divisions of the Bouma Sequence and suggests turbidity-current de-
position. The scarcity of trace fossils may be related to harsh living con-
ditions in an environment characterized by very rapid sedimentation. For-
aminiferal assemblages in the interbedded shales are dominated by agglu-
tinating foraminifera indicative of an open marine shelf setting. Planktonic
foraminifera are absent. Palynological analyses show moderately rich
spores, occasional mangrove, back-mangrove, freshwater swamp, and su-
perabundant palm pollen indicating proximity to a coast. The association
of relatively shallow-water microfossil assemblages with turbidites suggests
sedimentation in a delta-front setting. A delta-front or prodelta interpreta-
tion is supported by the striking abundance of palm pollen, indicating a
nearby fluvial feeder system. Another 4 km south along strike, well-sorted,
fine- to medium-grained sandstones unconformably overlie slump 6. Lo-
cally, flaser bedding is observed, and a number of planar cross-bed foresets
are marked by mud drapes. These sandstones are interpreted as tidal de-
posits capping the basal slump unit.
918 S. BACK ET AL.
FIG. 8.—Detailed sedimentary log of offshore-transition to lower-shoreface units
in highstand systems tract of Section A–AЈ (Fig. 5). Note pronounced upward coars-
ening from 5 to 40 m, and from 45 to 65 m, respectively. For outcrop photographs,
see Figure 9.
TABLE 1.—Microfossil samples and depositional environment
Delta front with slumps
Outer shelf
M17, M18, M19, M22, M25
M3, M5, M6, M7, M9, M10, M11, M12, M14, M15
M1, M2, M4, M20, M21, M23, M24
Note: Sample locations are shown on Figure 4.
Above the sandstones are shales 1–1.5 km thick locally interbedded with
thin 5–40 cm thick siltstone and sandstone beds (Figs. 4, 5). Small slumps
less than 15 m thick occur within uniform claystone units (slumps 1 and
2; Fig. 4). At slump 1 microfossil analyses yield a foraminiferal assemblage
indicating a moderately deep outer-shelf environment (Table 1). Slumps 1
and 2 are succeeded by sandstones with internal convolute bedding, climb-
ing ripples, and graded bedding interpreted to represent turbidite beds
formed from suspended material that accumulated after the slumps were
The top of the Setap Shales in outcrop is conformably overlain by es-
carpment-forming sandstones and shales that form the base of the Belait
Formation (Figs. 1, 2, 4). Figure 8 provides a detailed sedimentary log of
these units along Section A–AЈ. The total sandstone content of the lowest
parts of the section is less than 20%; average grain size ranges from very
fine to medium grained. Individual sandstone beds are 0.1–1 m thick, and
amalgamate to sandstone bedsets up to 5 m thick. The sandstones have
erosional bases and show distinct hummocky (Fig. 9B) and swaly cross
stratification, indicating deposition as storm beds. The tops of individual
beds are intensely burrowed, as are the shales in between (Fig. 9C). Mi-
crofossil analyses from the shales show a foraminifera assemblage of a
lower shoreface environment (Table 1). In the sandstone beds, the occur-
rence of the trace fossil Ophiomorpha indicates a maximum paleo-water
depth of 200 m (Pemberton et al. 1992), although it typically occurs in
sediments deposited in much shallower conditions.
The sedimentological and micropaleontological data of the study area
indicate that the entire sedimentary succession developed in a shelf envi-
ronment. This contrasts with previous works that postulated a bathyal set-
ting solely on the basis of lithology (Liechti et al. 1960; Wilford 1961;
James 1984; Hutchison 1994; Sandal 1996). A number of arguments
strongly support an overall shelf interpretation: the basal slumps could be
interpreted to indicate either a continental slope setting or a shelf environ-
ment close to a delta front. However, microfossil and palynomorph analyses
of the slumped shales (Simmons et al. 1999) and of the interbedded shales
of the units above exclusively indicate shallow-marine to open-shelf con-
ditions (Table 1). The absence of any background fauna living in water
depths greater than 200 m strongly favors the shelf interpretation. Also the
occurrence of turbidites could indicate either bathyal or shelf conditions.
The proximity of the turbidites to stratigraphically corresponding shallow-
marine deposits (Figs. 1, 4, 6) favors an interpretation as shelf deposits.
This is supported by the striking abundance of palm pollen in the shales
interbedded with the turbidite beds that point to a nearby fluvial feeder
system, and by the entirely shelfal signature of the microfossil analyses
(Table 1). The turbidites were possibly directly sourced from a delta front,
or they could represent storm-induced tempestites. To preserve turbidite
deposits on a shelf, however, they must not be reworked by other processes.
This effectively places the turbidites below storm wave base (Walker and
Plint 1992). In a setting similar to the present-day shelf offshore Brunei
(characterized by small waves even during storm events) turbidite preser-
vation under open-shelf conditions is very likely.
A shelf interpretation places the clinoform section above 200 m water
depth. Figure 10 provides a schematic depositional model that accounts for
clinoform development in shelfal water depths in front of a mud-rich delta:
Fig. 10A shows the accumulation of deltaic sands south of the study area
and deposition of prodelta and shelf mudstones in the study area. During
a relative fall of sea level the delta front oversteepens, fails, and generates
shallow-water slumps. Mobilized sediments (slumps and turbidites) accu-
mulate within the prodelta succession (Fig. 10B). Sea level drops further
and thin lowstand sands develop (Fig. 10C). Lowstand deposition is ter-
minated by a relative rise in sea level (Fig. 10D) and the shoreline is driven
landwards. Localized erosion of lowstand sands likely reflects wave scour
on a transgressive erosional surface. The remaining lowstand sands are
covered by transgressive shelf mudstones. Minor slumping in the very
south of the study area (Fig. 4) might be related to transgressive destruction
of the nearby delta front (sensu Galloway 1989). Finally, during late high-
stand conditions sediment supply significantly exceeds available accom-
FIG. 9.—Outcrop photographs of progradational shoreface deposits at the base of the Belait Formation. A) Upward-coarsening sandstone–shale succession corresponding
to 5–35 m on sedimentary log (Fig. 8). B) Hummocky cross-stratification in sandstone bed. C) Bioturbated shales interbedded with symmetrically rippled sandstones. For
location of photographs B and C, see photograph A and Figure 8.
modation and mud-rich delta foresets and sand-rich topset beds prograde
(Fig. 10E).
Clinoforms 1 and 2, exposed south of the study area (Fig. 2), show
similar depositional geometries: slumps (and possible shallow-marine sand-
stones) mark the individual bases, thick shale and mudstone units succeed,
and strongly progradational shoreface and tidal deposits form the top of
each clinoform. This repetitive pattern likely reflects relative changes of
sea level controlling the initial development of the Belait delta. The limited
age constraints on both rocks and tectonic history of the study area do not
allow an unambiguous evaluation of eustatic and tectonic controls on cli-
noform development. However, the overall strong progradational trend of
the studied stack of sequences could very well reflect a long-term decrease
in regional accommodation triggered by significant tectonic uplift of the
northwestern Borneo hinterland coinciding with a major Middle Miocene
eustatic fall.
On the northwestern Borneo margin Miocene delta development fol-
lowed a two-stage evolution: the first stage is characterized by rapid delta
progradation, and the second by slower progradation as the delta encoun-
tered overpressured, undercompacted shales that permitted the creation of
significant accommodation through growth faulting and downbuilding. The
base of the Middle Miocene Belait delta exposed in onshore Brunei Da-
russalam reveals details of the first stage: a succession of three large-scale
prograding clinoforms is interpreted as a stack of three individual sequences
formed in response to relative changes of sea level. Each sequence exhibits
slumps and shallow-marine sandstones at the base, overlain by transgres-
sive mudstones and shales, and strongly progradational shoreface and tidal
deposits at the top. Sedimentological and micropaleontological data of the
youngest prograding clinoform document that all sediments (regardless of
whether sand- or shale-dominated) formed in a shoreface to open-shelf
setting. This indicates that kilometer-scale clinoforms do not necessarily
reflect shelf-break margin systems; they can also develop entirely on the
continental shelf in water depths less than 200 m.
The overall strong progradational character of the Middle Miocene cli-
noform succession of Brunei Darussalam is interpreted to reflect a long-
term decrease in accommodation triggered by a combination of significant
920 S. BACK ET AL.
FIG. 10.—Sequence stratigraphic model for the development of the study area. A) Sedimentation during initial highstand systems tract. B) Slumping during sea-level fall
and slump accumulation in a forced regressive wedge systems tract (sensu Hunt and Tucker 1992) or lowstand systems tract (sensu Ainsworth and Pattison 1994). C)
Development of offshore-transition sands during mid-lowstand systems tract. D) Transgressive erosion of offshore-transition sands and subsequent accumulation of prodelta
shales during transgressive systems tract. E) Rapid delta progradation during final highstand systems tract. Section A–AЈ corresponds to stratigraphic log of Figure 5.
tectonic uplift of the northwestern Borneo hinterland and a major Middle
Miocene eustatic fall.
This work was supported by Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and Brunei
Shell Petroleum (BSP). We thank Suzy S. Cartmer, Shirley S.E. van Heck, and
Patrick A.W. Allman-Ward (all BSP) for joint fieldtrips and helpful discussions.
Mike Bidgood and Patrice Brenac are thanked for their help with the biostratigraphic
analyses. Reviews by Kevin Bohacs, Mark Thomas, and JSR Associate Editor Keith
Shanley were very helpful and contributed significantly to the improvement of the
paper. The authors would also like to thank Paul Crevello for comments on an earlier
version of this manuscript.
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Received 31 May 2000; accepted 6 March 2001.