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Sedimentary Basin

The term sedimentary basin is used to refer to any geographical feature

exhibiting subsidence and consequent infilling by sedimentation. As the
sediments are buried, they are subjected to increasing pressure and begin the
process of lithification.

A depression in the crust of the Earth formed by plate tectonic activity in which
sediments accumulate. Continued deposition can cause further depression
or subsidence. Sedimentary basins, or simply basins, vary from bowl-
shaped to elongated troughs. If rich hydrocarbon source rocks occur in
combination with appropriate depth and duration of burial, hydrocarbon
generation can occur within the basin.

Methods of Formation
It is common to categorise sedimentary basins according to the mechanism of
formation: tectonic compression (e.g., foreland basins, caused by lithospheric
flexure), tectonic extension (e.g., back-arc basins, caused by lithospheric
stretching), and tectonic strike-slip (such as pull-apart basins).
1. Lithospheric stretching

If the lithosphere is caused to stretch horizontally, by mechanisms such as ridge-

push or trench-pull, the effect is believed to be twofold. The lower, hotter part of
the lithosphere will "flow" slowly away from the main area being stretched, whilst
the upper, cooler and more brittle crust will tend to fault (crack) and fracture. The
combined effect of these two mechanisms is for the earth's surface in the area of
extension to subside, creating a geographical depression which is then often
infilled with water and/or sediments. (An analogy might be a piece of rubber,
which thins in the middle when stretched.)

An example of a basin caused by lithospheric stretching is the North Sea - also

an important location for significant hydrocarbon reserves. Another such feature
is the Basin and Range province which covers most of the USA state of Nevada,
forming a series of horst and graben structures.

Another expression of lithospheric stretching results in the formation of ocean

basins with central ridges; The Red Sea is in fact an incipient ocean, in a plate
tectonic context. The mouth of the Red Sea is also a tectonic triple junction
where the Indian Ocean Ridge, Red Sea Rift and East African Great Rift Valley
meet. This triple junction is also the only place on the planet where seafloor crust
is subaerially exposed. The reason for this is twofold, due to a high thermal
buoyancy of the junction, and a local crumpled zone of seafloor crust acting as a
dam against the Red Sea.

2. Lithospheric compression/shortening and flexure

If a load is placed on the lithosphere, it will tend to flex in the manner of an elastic
plate. The rate and degree of flexure is a function of the flexural rigidity of the
lithosphere, which is itself a function of the lithospheric mineral composition and
thermal regime. The nature of the load is varied. For instance, the Hawaiian
Islands chain of volcanic edifices has sufficient mass to cause deflection in the

The obduction of one tectonic plate onto another also causes a load and often
results in the creation of a foreland basin, such as the Po basin next to the Alps
in Italy, the Molasse Basin next to the Alps in Germany, or the Ebro basin next to
the Pyrenees in Spain.

3. Strike-slip deformation

Deformation of the lithosphere in the plane of the earth (i.e. such that faults are
vertical) occurs as a result of horizontal differential stresses. The resulting zones
of subsidence are known as strike-slip or pull-apart basins. Basins formed
through strike-slip action occur where a vertical fault plane curves. When the
curve in the fault plane moves apart, a region of transtension results, creating a
basin. Another term for a transtensional basin is a rhombochasm. A classic
rhombochasm is illustrated by the Dead Sea rift, where northward movement of
the Arabian Plate relative to the Anatolian Plate has caused a rhombochasm.

The opposite effect is that of transpression, where converging movement of a

curved fault plane causes collision of the opposing sides of the fault. An example
is the San Bernardino Mountains north of Los Angeles, which result from
convergence along a curve in the San Andreas fault system. The Northridge
earthquake was caused by vertical movement along local thrust and reverse
faults bunching up against the bend in the otherwise strike-slip fault environment.

Ongoing development of sedimentary basins

As more and more sediment is deposited into the basin, the weight of all the
newer sediment may cause the basin to subside further because of isostasy. A
basin can continue having sediment deposited into it, and continue to subside,
for long periods of geological time; this can result in basins many kilometres in
thickness. Geologic faults can often occur around the edge of, and within, the
basin, as a result of the ongoing slippage and subsidence.

Study of sedimentary basins

The study of sedimentary basins as a specific entity in themselves is often
referred to as basin modelling or Sedimentary Basin Analysis. The need to
understand the processes of basin formation and evolution are not restricted to
the purely academic. Indeed, sedimentary basins are the location for almost all of
the world's hydrocarbon reserves and as such are the focus of intense
commercial interest.
Sedimentary basin analysis is a geologic method by which the history of a
sedimentary basin is revealed, by analyzing the sediment fill itself. Aspects of the
sediment, namely its composition, primary structures, and internal architecture,
can be synthesized into a history of the basin fill. Such a synthesis can reveal
how the basin formed, how the sediment fill was transported or precipitated, and
reveal sources of the sediment fill. From such syntheses models can be
developed to explain broad basin formation mechanisms. Examples of such
basinal environments include backarc, forearc, passive margin, epicontinental,
and extentional basins.

Sedimentary basin analysis is largely conducted by two types of geologists who

have slightly different goals and approaches. The petroleum geologist, whose the
ultimate goal is to determine the possible presence and extent of hydrocarbons
and hydrocarbon-bearing rocks in a basin, and the academic geologist, who may
be concerned with any or all facets of a basin's evolution. Petroleum industry
basin analysis is often conducted on subterrannean basins through the use of
reflection seismology and data from well logging. Academic geologists study
subterranean basins as well as those basins which have been exhumed and
dissected by subsequent tectonic events. Thus academics sometimes use
petroleum industry techniques, but in many cases they are able to study rocks at
the surface. Techniques used to study surficial sedimentary rocks include:
measuring stratigraphic sections, identifying sedimentary depositional
environments and constructing a geologic map.

World Map of sedimentary Basins