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Palaeomagnetic Dating of Reservoir Rocks- a Review

Abdelaziz L. Abdeldayem
Department of Petroleum Geoscience, Faculty of Geoscience and Petroleum Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Bandar
Seri Iskandar, 31750 Tronoh, Perak Darul Ridzuan, Malaysia
Palaeomagnetism, as a viable dating tool, has long been
potentially utilized to provide absolute dates for different types
of rocks by correlating their primary Natural Remanent
Magnetization (NRM) records to pre-established international
standard records throughout geologic time. This technique is
based on the fact that most rocks, including sandstones and
other reservoir rock types, contain magnetic grains that
become aligned with the direction of the Earth's magnetic field
at the time of their formation. These accessory iron oxides, like
magnetite and hematite that are known as ferromagnetics, not
only have the ability to acquire the orientation and intensity of
the then Earth's magnetic field during rock formation but also
to preserve it in their internal orientation and retain it
throughout geologic time. These wide-scale frozen NRM
records of the Earth's magnetic field have provided an
important tool for determining the age and evolution path of
different types of rocks [1, 2, 3]. Most reservoir rocks
comprise relatively high content of magnetic minerals and
measurable magnetism that allow them to be credibly studied
and dated palaeomagnetically [2, 4, 5, 6].
The mechanism by which NRM is acquired depends upon
the mode of formation and subsequent history of the rock as
well as the characteristics of the magnetic minerals it contains.
As for sedimentary reservoir rocks, they acquire a specific type
of NRM that is known as Detrital Remanent Magnetization
(DRM) which results from the alignment of magnetic particles
during deposition. There are two other basic types of NRM
that depend on the mechanism of palaeomagnetic signal
acquisition, which are TRM and CRM. The former refers to the
thermoremanent magnetisation acquired when a rock (igneous
or metamorphic) cools below the Curie temperature of its
magnetic minerals, thereby locking the NRM that may last
for billions of years. The latter, CRM, is the chemical
remanent magnetisation acquired when a magnetic mineral
grows through a critical blocking volume or grain size at
which the field is locked in and the acquired remanence may
also be stable for billions of years.
The total NRM observed in a particular rock is composed of
primary magnetization remain that was acquired during the
formation of the rock, as well as the more recently added
secondary magnetizations. The latter are, by definition, those
magnetizations that were acquired more recently than the
original time of rock formation. Different components of
NRM, which have been acquired at different times in the rock's
history, will reside in different populations of magnetic
mineral grain within the rock, which commonly acquires
different magnetic stabilities. Separation of the different
components of magnetization in a rock is normally achieved

Abstract- The study of remanent magnetism, palaeomagnetism,

is reviewed here as a potential geochronologic tool that can be
used to date sedimentary reservoir rocks, particularly
unfossiliferous sandstone, where most oil reserves reside When
sandstone is formed, magnetically susceptible microscopic iron
particles record the direction and magnitude of the Earths
magnetic field. This record, therefore, provides information on
the past behavior of the field throughout geologic times, including
palaeo-locations of magnetic pole positions and the geomagnetic
reversal records preserved in rock sequences (magnetostratigraphy). Such records provide a time-scale that can be used
as a geochronologic tool to determine the absolute age of a
reservoir rock, hence the depiction of its depositional history and
Palaeomagnetic dating can be applied to both rock outcrops
(oriented core samples) and subsurface reservoirs (borehole cores
or magnetic logging). In case of core plugs (surface or subsurface),
stepwise demagnetization is applied to remove unstable magnetic
records and isolate primary records. Both visual and statistical
methods are then used to analyse the entire spectrum of the
residing remanent magnetisation to isolate the primary
component that is supposed to reflect the age of the rock. The
later is then used to calculate the position of the corresponding
palaeomagnetic pole or determine the type of magnetic polarity
based on the standard geocentric axial dipole model for the
average geomagnetic field. The results are then correlated to
corresponding standard records of either the apparent polar
wander path (APWP) or geomagnetic polarity time Scale (GPTS)
to determine the age of the reservoir rock involved. In the case of
magnetic logging, a different approach is applied where the
Geological High-resolution Magnetic Tool (GHMT) is used to
simultaneously record both the magnetic susceptibility and the
Earths total magnetic induction down the borehole where the
magnetic reversal sequence is determined by isolating the polarity
of the scalar remanent magnetization. Unlike working with cores
that are sometime incomplete due to poor recovery or suffer from
drilling-induced overprints due to the strong magnetic field
present in the pipe, GHMT permits a continuous clear record of
time reference targeted.
Illustrative examples representing the above-mentioned
palaeomagnetic dating methods will be presented here.

Most oil reserves reside in sedimentary rocks, mostly
sandstone, that usually have a broad age window due to lack of
any credible record of index body fossils or limited biostratigraphic dating records. This has always caused a problem
of where to consider them in the geochronological sequence of
a basin.

by progressive demagnetization procedures, i.e. magnetic

cleaning. The lower stability components are removed
preferentially during the early stages of the treatment, and the
higher stability components during later stages. Different
magnetic cleaning experiments and stability tests are usually
used to assess the primary nature of the residing NRM. Details
of these methods are beyond the scope of this paper but can be
explored in standard text books [e.g. 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7].
The present review is, therefore, aimed at outlining viability
of palaeomagnetism as a valid dating tool for reservoir rocks
where absolute dates can be obtained by correlating primary
NRM records derived from these rocks to established
international standard records of different time scales [e.g. 8].
Dating Potentiality
The fundamental of palaeomagnetic dating is based on the
fact that the main geomagnetic field is subject to changes in its
direction and strength on time scales ranging from years to
millennia and even millions of years [9, 10, 11]. The more
useful geomagnetic changes are those resulting from of longterm fluctuations with a time scale that allows them to be
recorded in every type of natural rocks making them
worldwide phenomena. For instance, it has long been
established that the geomagnetic field inverts its polarity (i.e.,
magnetic north and south poles interchange) at irregular
intervals. Such a random character of polarity reversal has
given it a value as a stratigraphic dating tool and helped in the
establishment of the first geochronological palaeomagnetic
time scale, the Geomagnetic Polarity Time Scale (GPTS), that
is globally valid [15] and the development of the branch of
magnetostratigraphy [12, 13, 14]. The time spent in one or the
other polarity state varies from about 104 to 107 years, and the
transition period may take between 103 and 104 years. It simply
orders strata into intervals characterized by the NRM direction
of the rock, being either in the direction of the present Earths
magnetic field (normal polarity) or 180 away from it (reverse
With the availability of more and more credible recent
palaeomagnetic inputs, precision of standard records of the
Earth's magnetic field reversals through time has improved
considerably and a well-established GPTS is currently
available, particularly for the past 200 Ma where a complete
record is preserved in the sea-floor (oceanic crust). This, in
turn, enables potential geochronologic applications on a wide
scale time range [12, 14].
To further strengthen this indispensible stratigraphic dating
tool, recent attempts have been made to astronomically
calibrate the GPTS through the extensive use of
cyclostratigraphy [e.g., 16] to develop what is now known as
the Astronomically calibrated Polarity Time Scale (APTS)
[17]. The APTS is now almost complete for the Neogene [18]
and has been developed for the Late Triassic [19, 20, 21].
Luckily, most hydrocarbon reservoir rocks are covered by this
detailed magnetostratigraphy time scale period. Fig. 1 shows
the most recently constructed Phanerozoic GPTS as
implemented by the Subcommission for Stratigraphic
Information of the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

Fig. 1. Phanerozoic GPTS, modified from "The Concise

Geologic Time Scale" [22, Cambridge University Press) as
implemented by the Subcommission for Stratigraphic
Information of the International Commission on Stratigraphy
tml, 2010).

In most applications, polarity stratigraphic is used to

chronologically arrange rock bodies into identifiable units
based on variations in their polarity records. A correlation is
usually sought between observed magnetic polarity zonation in
a strartigraphic section and the GPTS. In essence, the objective
is to determine a pattern of polarity zones that provides a
fingerprint of a particular interval of the GPTS [4]. If a
distinctive set of reversals observed in a particular rock
sequence can be matched unambiguously with the appropriate
part of the GPTS, then the geological age of each of the beds
containing a polarity inversion can be deduced.
On a larger time scale variations of some 106-109 years, the
isolated primary NRM from a rock of specific age can be used
to calculate the position of their corresponding palaeomagnetic
pole based on the standard geocentric axial dipole model for
the average geomagnetic field. Averaging pole positions over a
period of several thousand years yields a mean pole direction
for this period that corresponds to the geographic poles (the
Earth's spin axis). Therefore, all rocks magnetized at the same
time should have the same palaeomagnetic pole position that
corresponds to the geographic pole of that age [23]. It has long
been realized, however, that successive palaeomagnetic pole
positions from successions of old rocks on a coherent
continental block do not coincide with the present geographic
pole, but rather lie on a path that gradually shifts away from
the present pole as older and older rocks are considered. As the
Earth's axis of rotation is fixed, the changing positions of the
pole, as a function of time, is due to the motion of the
continental block from which rock samples were obtained.
This path is, therefore, termed the Apparent Polar Wander
Path, APWP, as the movement of the pole reflects the drift of
this continental block through time rather than the movement

of the geomagnetic pole [24]. Each coherent rock block has,

therefore, a unique APWP.
In addition to its use for studying plate movements [25],
APWP is also used to determine absolute age of a rock unit
within the same continental block by plotting the computed
palaeomagnetic pole from this rock unit on it. There are over
10,000 palaeomagnetic poles currently available worldwide
with a range in age from the Archean to recent and with a
quality that ranges from excellent to highly questionable.
Palaeomagnetic poles are continuously compiled into the
IAGA Global Palaeomagnetic Database (GPMDB). Since it
was first released in 1991, the GPMDB has been successively
updatesd every two years [e.g., 26]. It facilitates assembling
the subset of poles into APWPs for the different continental
fragments. (
Picking out the right poles from the published data is the main
issue that guides the construction of a reliable APWP. The
general selection criteria used by most palaeomagnetists are
based on those proposed by [27, 28] that have been modified
for particular applications, for example, by [29]. A useful
discussion on these pole selection criteria and the different
construction methods of APWP can be found in [6]. Fig. 2
displays an example of one of the most recently used APWP
for Eurasia using the Palaeomagnetic Euler Poles (PEP)
construction approach [30].
With the acquisition of many good quality palaeomagnetic
poles during the past few decades, APWPs for different
continental blocks have been significantly refined and are
currently used for diverse dating applications. Even when the
rock is found to carry a secondary NRM records it can still be
useful to compare with the APWP and geochronologically
used to depict the post-formation history of the rock [4, 6, 7].
It is relevant to mentioned here that APWP has extensively
been used to date the unfossiliferous Nubian Sandstone rock
unit that crops out in many parts in NE Africa and the Middle
East. This unit has a strategic importance as a reservoir and
aquifer rock unit in many parts. It has been assigned a broad
age window ranging from Early Palaeozoic to Late Cretaceous
due to lack of any credible record of index body fossils.
Palaeomagnetism, as a viable dating tool, has been potentially
successful in providing absolute dates for this unit in many
parts [31, 32].

Fig. 2. Euraisa APWP constructed using the palaeomagnetic Euler

poles (PEP) approach. Lines show five APWP tracks (050, 50
140, 140160, 160180 and 180250 Ma) represented by great circle
segments. Numbers in rectangles show a track number (after [30]).


As detailed above, palaeomagnetism can be potentially

utilized to provide absolute dates for both surface and
subsurface rocks. Carrying out a palaeomagnetic study on
surface or subsurface reservoir rock can, therefore, take one of
the two following forms:
- Direct studies on oriented surface or subsurface standard
cylindrical cores; or
- Indirect studies through magnetic logging.
In case of direct studies, surface or subsurface core plugs
are sampled and stepwisely demagnetized (magnetic cleaning
using either alternating field a.f. or heating) to remove the
unstable magnetic records. The entire record/ spectrum of the
residing remanent magnetisation is then traced and analysed,
both visually and statistically, in order to isolate the primary
component that reflects the age of the rock concerned [33].
The results are then correlated to corresponding international
standard records of either the GPTS or APWP to determine the
age of the reservoir rock involved.
As for indirect studies, magnetic logging using the
Geological High-resolution Magnetic Tool (GHMT) is
conducted. This tool simultaneously records both magnetic
susceptibility and Earths total magnetic induction with great
precision in a borehole in order to determine the
palaeomagnetic reversals in the sedimentary sequence, hence
its complete magnetostratigraphy record regardless of core
recovery problems. It was developed as a cooperative venture
between Commissariat a lEnergie AtomiqueLaboratoire
dElectronique, de Technologie et dInstrumentation (CEA
LETI), Ecole Normale Superieur, and Total Oil Company in
France, and has been operating since 1990 in the Ocean
Drilling Program (ODP) by Schlumberger (ODP Leg 134). It
helped in obtaining high-resolution magnetostratigraphic
records at different sites (e.g., 34, 35, 36, and 37). This
magnetic logging tool consists of two sondes:
1. The Susceptibility Measurement Sonde (SUMS) records
signals related to formation magnetic susceptibility.
2. The Nuclear Resonance Magnetometer Sonde (NMRS)
accurately measures the total magnetic induction in the
As demonstrated by [38, 39, 40], measurements from both
sondes contribute to the field anomaly in the borehole and are
therefore combined to determine the palaeomagnetic reversals
record, the magnetostratigraphy, by isolating the polarity of the
scalar remanent magnetization.
A full coverage of the entire spectrum of current
geochronological applications of palaeomagnetism is not
feasible within the space available here but can be traced
elsewhere [1, 2, 4, 6, 7]. There are tens of available illustrative
examples to demonstrate the viability of palaeomagnetism a
dating tool for different types of rocks. In the following
sections, three representative case examples of the mainstream
applications are presented here to highlight the potential of
palaeomagnetic dating of surface and subsurface rocks using
direct and indirect application approaches. They were selected

to cover different geographical areas with different geological

and temporal settings.
Case Study I
In their detailed study, [41] analysed the palaeomagnetic
characteristics of the Tertiary deposits of the Mae Moh Basin
in northern Thailand. Similar to other Tertiary intermontane
basins in this part of Thailand, these deposits comprise
hominoid fossils and Neogene mammal faunas and are rich in
lignite and oil shale deposits. Relative ages provided by
biochronological studies were controversial and neither
absolute ages nor correlations with marine deposits could be
obtained before. Magnetostratigraphy was therefore called on
to provide a precise temporal framework to estimate the timing
and duration of basin formation.
The study was conducted on two sampled sections that
yielded credible polarity reversal records. Results were then
combined to those obtained previously by [42] to obtain a
complete magnetostratigraphic record for a composite
sequence of 525m. With the help of available biochronological
constraints, they could identify 15 polarity zones (seven
normal and eight reversed) from the composite section that
were preferably correlated to the period from Chron C5ACr to
C5r.3r of the GPTS of [43] which cover an age range between
14.1 and 12.0 Ma (Fig. 5A). Based on sedimentation rate
calculations and known tectonic subsidence history of the Mae
Moh Basin, alternative correlation with the GPTS (Fig. 5B)
was found less plausible as they yield unrealistic age for the
fossiliferous lignite levels. The obtained high-resolution
magnetostratigraphic record has been considered as a reference
for the continental middle Miocene of all Southeast Asia. .

Fig. 3. (A) Preferred correlation of the composite Mae Moh

sequence with the GPTS of [43]. The letters at the left of the
stratigraphic column indicate the nomenclature applied to the
lignite zones. (B) Alternative correlation of the Mae Moh
sequence with the GPTS (after [41]).

Case Study II
This case study shows how downhole magnetic logging can
be used to obtain a high-resolution magnetostratigraphic record
through indirect continuous measurements. The study example

chosen here is that of [44] that concerns the Middle to Late

Miocene sedimentary sequence in the central part of the
Vienna Basin, Austria. Here, the GHMT was used to obtain
high-precision downhole measurements to derive the sequence
of polarity reversals of the traversed Miocene sedimentary
sequence in the central part of the basin.
As clearly shown in figure 4, good agreement between the
biostratigraphical and the palaeomagnetic records could be
achieved for the post-Badenian sequence. Stratigraphic control
with this integrated approach was good in the Sarmatian and
Pannonian, but difficult in the Badenian due to poor
measurement signals. The good correspondence of the
magnetostratigraphic results with the GPTS of [18] and the
Central Paratethyan biozones (Fig. 4) strongly supports the
validity of these records.
Such findings enabled [44] to work out variable
sedimentation rates throughout the section and visualize the
infill history of the Vienna Basin as controlled by regional
tectonic activity, but modulated by eustatic influences.

Fig. 4. Magnetostratigraphic of the Miocene sedimentary sequence in the

central part of the Vienna Basin and their correlation to the GPTS of [18]
and the Central Paratethyan biozones. Solid lines indicate correlations with
high confidence; dotted lines indicate correlations with less certainty. Grey
areas indicate the error bars for the biostratigraphic analysis. On the
palaeomagnetic log black represent normal polarity, white reversed polarity
and grey uncertain polarity. The intervals with no palaeomagnetic data are
indicated with crosses. Solid arrows on the GPTS indicate the short polarity
subchrons and dashed arrows indicate the location of the polarity
fluctuations within Chron C5n.2n as described by [45]. The main
unconformities in the well are indicated by an undulating line on the
palaeomagnetic log (after [44]).

Case Study III

In this study case, it is shown that even when secondary
palaeomagnetic records are dominating in a reservoir rock,
geochronological application of APWP can still be valuable in
giving insight into the post formation history of that rock. The
chosen study here is that of [46] who applied a detailed

palaeomagnetic study on the Mississippian Barnett Shale gas

unconventional reservoir and source rock, north central Texas,
and the underlying Ordovician carbonates of the Ellenburger
Group in the Fort Worth Basin. Here palaeomagnetic analysis
of samples from three scribe oriented conventional drill cores
were used to depict the nature and timing of different
diagenetic events in the Barnett Shale. This is done in light of
known records of alteration, especially from basin fluids near
major faults and karsts developed in the underlying
Ellenburger Group carbonates and Precambrian basement
rocks. Through the use of the APWP of North America, the
unit was found to contain multiple secondary CRMs with
palaeomagnetic poles that correspond to ages that were related
to multiple diagenetic events elapsing the time from midPennsylvanian to late Permian (Fig. 5).
These secondary palaeomagnetic components were
interpreted as to have formed due to the effect of externallyderived fluids that may have migrated from the Ouachita thrust
zone. Both the Ellenburger carbonates and the Barnett Shale
seem to have experienced remagnetizing fluid alteration events
during their histories, and connections can be made in some
cases between the two units. Both units were remagnetized in
the early-mid Pennsyvanian period, suggesting that the burial
of the section and its thermal maturity for hydrocarbon
generation remagnetized portions of both units. Both units also
contain a widespread Permian to early Triassic aged set of
remagnetizations, which correspond to maximum burial of the
unit. This interpretation was further supported by the fact that
both units contain highly radiogenic strontium values in these
zones suggesting a possible mixture of externally-derived
radiogenic fluids perhaps from the Ouachita thrust or from
deep basement brines. It was also assumed that internal burial
fluids may have been present and played a role in these
alterations [46].

Fig. 5. Secondary palaeomagnetic poles from the Mississippian

Barnett Shale gas reservoir and source rock, north central Texas, and
the underlying Ordovician carbonates of the Ellenburger Group in
the Fort Worth Basin plotted on the North American APWP.
Diamond is bedding parallel (stratiform) deposits; dark square is
northeasterly and sub-vertical fractures; triangle is matrix only;
circle is vertical, northwesterly tectonic fractures; light square is
vertical and northeasterly fractures (after [46]).

Plots of computed palaeomagnetic poles on the APWP also

helped the identification of two additional diagenetic events in
the Ellenburger carbonates that do not exist in Barnett Shale

CRM records; a late Ordovician-Silurian remagnetization

which predates deposition of the Barnett, and a late Triassic to
Jurassic CRM (Fig. 5). This was attributed to the low
permeability of the Barnett shale, particularly after
cementation during the Pennsylvanian and Permian periods,
that did not allow this late fluid to infiltrate into it.
The obtained palaeomagnetic records were further found in
good correlation with the fracture orientation patterns which
enabled their classification accordingly (Fig. 5). Fractures with
northeasterly azimuths were found in rock that contains a
Pennsylvanian and a late Permian CRM and are filled by
calcite and sulfates. The early CRM was interpreted to have
formed during burial diagenesis, while the latter was due to
gravity-driven orogenic fluids derived from the uplifted
Ouachita highlands. Northwesterly fractures, on the other
hand, are associated with rock that contains a late
Pennsylvanian to early Permian CRM. These are filled with
calcite, quartz and contain relict hydrocarbons.

The wide-scale irregular directional and magnitude changes

of the geomagnetic field with time and the occurrence of
ferromagnetic minerals in virtually all types of rocks have
rendered palaeomagnetism a viable dating tool that can be
applied in a very wide range of geochronological contexts.
This is particularly true for reservoir rocks that are mostly
unfossilferous and difficult to date where absolute dates can be
estimated by correlating isolated primary NRM records to
established international standard records through time. Even
when secondary NRM records can only be found,
palaeomagnetism can still be used as a highly potential tool to
trace the diagenetic history and post-formation changes of
these rocks.
Two essential levels of geochronological precision have
been demonstrated; polarity stratigraphy with periodicities of
103-107 years through the use of the GPTS, and the average
geomagnetic pole position with variations of some 106-109
years using the APWP, a wide time scales with a potential
geochronologic applications range. Recent advances in
palaeomagnetism have led to the documentation of a wealth of
well-resolved NRM records. This, in turn, helped in placing
the technique alongside with radiometric dating as a standard
geochronological tool. It has been proved as a unique
fingerprint for correlating rocks of diverse origin, enabling
an important global time framework. As detailed in this
review, the application of palaeomagnetism in various
geochronologic investigations is now commonplace.
It is hoped that new research findings and improvement of
palaeomagnetic methods will continue to develop to give more
accurate geochronological estimations. Future palaeomagnetic
research activities and accountability place exceptional
technical demands upon geochronologic applications. Some of
the sought future prospects are as follows:
1. Refinement of established polarity stratigraphy and
palaeomagnetic pole records is still needed to offer entirely
new opportunities for improved dating scales.

2. Application of sophisticated statistical techniques, as the

sequence slotting algorithms, need to be developed to
replace the current eye-matching correlation for a better
palaeomagnetic dating assessments.
3. Exploration in depth of the relationship between magnetic
minerals and rock forming processes is urgently needed to
establish, both in descriptive and experimental manner, the
sensitivity of magnetic minerals to post-formation changes.
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