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Sequence Stratigraphy 25 Years Down-the-Road: Technology Dependencies, Current Practices and Evolving

Methods for Prediction of Petroleum Systems*

Ole J. Martinsen1

Search and Discovery Article #50262 (2010)

Posted June 7, 2010

*Adapted from 2009-2010 AAPG Distinguished Lecture. Please refer to the other Distinguished Lecture by Dr. Martinsen; it is entitled, Deep-water Sedimentary
Processes and Systems: The Role of Internal vs. External Controls on Lithology Distribution and Stratigraphy, Search and Discovery Article #50261 (2010).

Statoil Hydro Research, Bergen, Norway (


Since its inception in the 1980s, sequence stratigraphy has manifested itself as an extremely useful tool for prediction of lithology and basin
fill in both clastic and carbonate settings. While most uses in the petroleum industry have been biased towards reservoir prediction, the
method is equally powerful in predicting source and seal lithology.

Sequence stratigraphy grew out of seismic stratigraphy, which developed in the 1970s as a response to the technological breakthrough of
high-resolution, long 2D seismic lines on continental margins, in which basin fill sequences could be viewed with unprecedented clarity. The
weakness of the 2D seismic stratigraphy approach was a function of lack of technology and insight to view the continental-margin sequences
in 3D. That came later, particularly in the 1990s, with the advent of high-resolution 3D seismic.

In the meanwhile, geologists with sedimentary and geomorphic insight had realized that sequences varied both in time and space and that a
2D view of them was insufficient to understand the chronology of most basin-filling sequences. This led to a flurry of studies of modern and
ancient sedimentary systems to populate the sequence frameworks with process, lithological and architectural data. New technology, such as
satellite/remote sensing data and digital capture of outcrop data, has allowed for data capture, idea development and breakthroughs of
understanding of sedimentary systems which could not have been accomplished with a simple qualitative approach.

While seismic stratigraphy and sequence stratigraphy can be classified, respectively, as second and third generation methods of understanding
basin fill (facies analysis being first order), a fourth generation method is rapidly developing. This method involves complete Source-to-Sink
(S2S) analysis of sedimentary systems and is carried forward by new technology and tools that allow for quantitative assessment of
geomorphic parameters, paleo-climate, drainage, bypass and depositional areas, and sediment supply in a linked way. In addition to the
deposits and the depositional area, which has been the focus of classic sequence stratigraphy, S2S includes an analysis of the sediment origin
area, its development, processes and sediment routing. This approach, which truly is an extension of Earth Systems Modelling, provides the
basin analyst with a much more complete view of a basins development in time and space and will form the basis for future basin analysis
techniques. Such an approach has potentially major impact on the assessment and risking of petroleum systems, but is clearly challenging
when performed on ancient systems as preservation of system components is often inversely proportional to age.

Thus, in summary, through four generations of development of methods for understanding and predicting basin fill, technology development
has played a major role in breakthrough of understanding. In consequence, geologists should be humble towards how breakthroughs are made
and continuously look for technology in other fields in science that will let us make the next new step forward.


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analysis?: Geology, v. 23, p. 439-442.

Maslin, M.A., 2009, Review of the timing and causes of the Amazon Fan Mass Transport and Avulsion Deposits during the latest Pleistocene,
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Mitchum, R.M. Jr., P.R. Vail, and J.B. Sangree, 1977, Seismic stratigraphy and global changes of sea level; Part 6, Stratigraphic interpretation
of seismic reflection patterns in depositional sequences: AAPG Memoir 26, p. 117-133.

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sequence as a basic unit for stratigraphic analysis: AAPG Memoir 26, P. 53-62.

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subsurface of the Alberta Basin: Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology, v. 38, p. 288-306.

Posamentier, H.W., 2001, Lowstand alluvial bypass systems: Incised vs. Unincised: AAPG Bulletin, v. 85/10, p. 1771-1793.

Posamentier, H.W., G.P. Allen, D.P. James, and M. Tesson, 1992, Forced regressions in a sequence stratigraphic framework: concepts,
examples, and exploration significance: AAPG Bulletin, v. 76, p. 1687-1709.

Posamentier, H.W. and P.R. Vail, 1988, Sequence stratigraphy; sequences and systems tract development: Memoir Canadian Society of
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partitioning in source-to-sink systems: Basin Research, v. 21, p. 361-387.

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(accessed May 11, 2010) material originally from Chris Kendall, USC website.
Sequence Stratigraphy 25 Years Down-the-Road:

Technology Dependencies, Current Practices and

Evolving Methods for Prediction of Petroleum Systems

Ole J. Martinsen,

Roy M. Huffington International Distinguished Lecturer 2009-2010


A personal view!
Sequence stratigraphy background
and key learnings
The role of technology
Models: are they important?
Variations to classic models
Local variability, other basin
types, deep-water settings
The next step?
A new process-driven

Onshore Norway: a sequence boundary in formation

Geology laws: tested by sequence stratigraphy
'A facies is a body of rock with
specified characteristics...
The Principle of Superposition of
The lowest unit is always the
Opposite of engineers way of
marking units
Exceptions occur!
Walthers Law
Environments which are adjacent
to one another during deposition
will be vertically adjacent when
stacked and buried
Exceptions occur!
The assumption that the natural
processes operating in the past
are the same as those that can
be observed operating in the From Chris Kendall
What has sequence stratigraphy given us?
Surface focus: unconformities and bypass
Shoreline position 15000BP

Shoreline position 10500BP

Late Pleistocene-Holocene forced regressive

shorelines and incised valleys, Arctic Norway
Surface focus: flooding/transgressive surfaces

Condensed sections:
300-400 kyr break


Prediction! Breaks! Time and Space Insight!

Chris Kendall, USC website

A sidestep!
Technology: has it mattered?
Major developments 1: Seismic stratigraphy

By who
Exxon in the early 70s

Improved prediction of
source, reservoir and seal on
prospective continental

Technology driver
2D seismic technology
Major developments 2: Sequence stratigraphy

By who
Exxon in the 80s

Improved prediction of source,
reservoir and seal from well
logs, core data and seismic
Application to outcrops

Technology driver
Improved well technology and
data collection
Depth-converted 2D seismic
Data integration Pine Ridge, Wyoming
Major developments 3:
Deep-water sedimentary systems insight
Courtesy of Kristina Bakke

By who
Various oil and service companies with
access to high-resolution 3D surveys
Seismic geomorphology
(H.W. Posamentier)

Improved understanding of deep-water
Prediction of reservoir in complex deep-
water settings

Technology driver
3D seismic and new interpretation tools
(VoxelGeo, Petrel, Landmark,
Models and background
Cratonic sequences, US

After Larry Sloss

Seismic stratigraphy (1970s)
Seismic sequence terminology
(Vail et al. 1977)

Vail et al. (1977), Mitchum et al. (1977)

Exxon sequence types (1980s)

Posamentier et al. (1988),

Van Wagoner et al. (1990)
Sequence boundaries

Pine Ridge, Wyoming

Embry T-R model
Galloway (1989):
Genetic sequences
A model based on
shoreline trajectories

Helland-Hansen & Martinsen (1996)

Shoreline trajectories and sequences

Helland-Hansen & Martinsen (1996)

Gradients, shoreline trajectories and


AG = Alluvial gradient
STG = Shoreline trajectory gradient
= 5) SG=STG
SG Shelf gradient
Alluvial plain
Shoreline trajectory
Shelf 6) SG>STG

Helland-Hansen & Martinsen (1996)

Geographic and geologic impact on models!

Exxon: from seismic and subsurface

Galloway: from Gulf of Mexico basin
Embry: Triassic of Canadian Arctic
Helland-Hansen & Martinsen: attempted to
Allostratigraphy (Walker, Plint): Western
Canadian sedimentary basin subsurface
Modifications to original models and
variability based on case studies
Stacking of parasequences
Progradational Retrogradational Aggradational
But what about variable sediment supply?

W. Helland-Hansen
Rule exceptions

Martinsen & Helland-Hansen (1995)

Canterbury Plains case

From Dale Leckie

Ashburton River, Southern Canterbury Plains

Knick point


Wyoming foreland stratigraphy

Unconformity Multi-storey, multi-stacked

Martinsen et al. 1999 (Sedimentology)



Martinsen et al. 1999 (Sedimentology)

Almond Formation


Base Canyon Creek Member

Threshold level:
Rusty Member change of fluvial style

Base Trail Member Canyon Creek Member


Rock Springs Threshold level:
Formation change of fluvial style

Trail Member

Martinsen et al. 1999 (Sedimentology)
Forced regression

Posamentier et al. (1992)

Barrier island at outcrop-or?




Almond Formation, Wyoming (USA)

Forced regressions:
preservation vs.

W. Helland-Hansen
Rift Basins

R. Gawthorpe et al. (1994)

Impact on Sequence Development
Foreland basins
Foreland basins

From H. Posamentier
Timing and spatial partitioning of deep-water
sediments and surface types

(rising sea level)

W. Helland-Hansen

Forced regression
(falling sea level)
Active sedimentation at low sea level
and reoccupation Late stage: low or rising sea level
with channel-levee system

Middle stages: lobate/

tabular sands

Initial stage:
debris flows at
falling sea-level

Gjelberg et al. (2001)

Deep-water reservoir models: cyclicity

2,5 km

200 ms


3 km

Gjelberg et al. (2001)

Sea-level control on Amazon fan

Maslin (2009)
Sea-level control on Amazon fan Maslin (2009)
Repetitive motifs: the recurring theme
15 km

Mid Miocene-Present

Late Paleocene/
Mid Miocene


Oceanic crust,
faulted Trond Lien (1998)
Seismic courtesy of ANP
What is next?

NACSN: North American Commission on

Stratigraphic Nomenclature
ISSC: International Subcommission on
Stratigraphic Classification
Building on sequence stratigraphy:
a new approach
Driven by prediction of ancient subsurface systems
Synthesis of other approaches
Present/Recent complete source-to-sink systems
are the key to predicting segments of ancient
source-to-sink systems

W East Shetland Platform (UK) South Viking Graben Utsira High Stord Basin (Norway) E

Paleocene slope-basin floor wedge

1000m 60km
From the Millennium Atlas
Source-to-Sink: understanding and definitions
Holistic approach
From drainage divide to
ultimate depositional
Key to prediction of
depositional elements

Temporal and spatial scale


Solids and solutes
Smme et al. 2009 (Basin Research)

Smme et al. 2009 (Basin Research)

Morphological approach: linked segments
Can information from one segment provide
quantitative information about other segments?

Smme et al. 2009 (Basin Research)


Smme et al. 2009 (Basin Research)

29 modern or sub-modern systems
Varying margin types in varying climatic zones (non-glacial)
Linkage of segments

River length vs.
Length of longest river channel (km)

slope length

Small active
Large active
Mixed Smme et al. 2009 (Basin Research)

1 10 100 1000
Slope length (km)
Prediction of many parameters
Fan area vs. slope length
Small active
Fan area vs. deposition rate Large active

Long-time deposition rate (x 10 t/yr)

Fan length vs. river length

Slope length (km)

100 Mixed

100 100000
Length of longest river channel (km)

10 10 10000

0.01 0.1 1 10 100 1000 10000
100 3 2
0.01 Fan area ( x 10 km )
0.01 0.1 1 10 100 1000 10000
10 3
Fan area ( x 10 km )

10 100 1000 10000

Smme et al. 2009 (Basin Research) Fan length (km)

Recent source-to-sink systems and controls:
Bengal Fan

Neogene-Recent mega-systems, SE Asia

Climate change in Ganges-Bengal
Change to seasonal discharge in
12-15 years
40% of water supply
disappears; 1.3 billion people

Goodbred (2003)
Uses of Source-to-Sink studies
Google Earth image
Community sedimentary
Societal applications
Sea-level changes
Water resources
150 km

Hydrocarbon exploration
Paleoclimatology and future
climate predictions
Courtesy of John Thurmond

East African antecedent drainages

Source-to-Sink vs. Sequence Stratigraphy
Complementary approaches to predict sediment partitioning

Holistic basin analysis Stratigraphy-dominated

Process-oriented Product-oriented
Integration of earth processes Sink-focused
Natural systems with inherent complexity Model-oriented 3D concepts, 2D practice
Map-view and volumetric focus Cross-sectional/depth focus

Dave Hunt, unpublished

Application to hydrocarbon exploration

Prediction in frontier basins and of lithology

Paleo - Digital Elevation Models and Earth

Systems Modelling

Digital elevation model, reconstructed plates,

drainage basins and sediment yield (circles)