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Structural evolution of minibasins on the Utsira High, Northern North Sea;


implications for Jurassic sediment dispersal and reservoir distribution

Article  in  Petroleum Geoscience · April 2010


DOI: 10.1144/1354-079309-011

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Structural evolution of minibasins on the Utsira High, northern North
Sea; implications for Jurassic sediment dispersal and reservoir
distribution
Christopher A-L. Jackson1,*, Karla E. Kane1,2 and Eirik Larsen3,4
1
Department of Earth Science & Engineering, Imperial College, London SW7 2BP, UK
2
Present address: Statoil (U.K.) Ltd, 1 Kingdom Street, London W2 6BD, UK
3
Statoil ASA, Forusbreen 50, N-4035, Stavanger, Norway
4
Present address: Rocksource ASA, Olav Kyrresgate 22, N-5808, Bergen, Norway
*
Corresponding author (e-mail: c.jackson@imperial.ac.uk)

ABSTRACT: 3D seismic and well data are integrated to determine the tectono-
stratigraphic evolution of the SW margin of the Utsira High, northern North Sea rift
system. During the Triassic, a series of minibasins formed due to passive diapirism
of the evaporite-bearing, Upper Permian, Zechstein Supergroup. Subsequently,
during the Jurassic, a series of secondary minibasins developed as the underlying salt
walls collapsed. These minibasins were a few hundred metres deep, bound by
sub-circular to elongate salt-cored structural highs and caused the development of
complex subaerial topography and submarine bathymetry on the SW margin of the
Utsira High. Salt withdrawal may have been related to: (i) partial dissolution of salt;
(ii) differential erosion of the salt walls and adjacent Triassic-filled minibasins; or (iii)
salt remigration caused by sub- or supra-salt extension or sediment loading. This
study provides insights into the tectono-stratigraphic evolution of the SW margin of
the Utsira High and has implications for (i) facies distribution of the Zechstein
Supergroup within the northern North Sea rift system; and (ii) depositional system
development, and thus reservoir distribution, within the Jurassic sedimentary
succession.

KEYWORDS: Utsira High, salt tectonics, Zechstein Supergroup, minibasin, South Viking
Graben

INTRODUCTION style and evolution of the main structural elements and


domains of the South Viking Graben. These include the
The South Viking Graben, an asymmetric half-graben located Graben Boundary Fault Zone, in the immediate hanging wall of
along the northern arm of the North Sea trilete rift system, which the main UK sector fields are located, and the axial part
hosts several major hydrocarbon accumulations with estimated of the graben, where large salt diapirs and sub-salt, basement-
recoverable reserves of 340.7  106 Sm3 of oil equivalent involved normal faults generated large structural traps (Fig. 1)
(Fig. 1). This value includes fields in production and fields with (e.g. Pegrum & Ljones 1984; Thomas & Coward 1996;
approved development plans up to December 2007, and does Branther 2003; Fletcher 2003a, b; Fraser et al. 2003; Husmo et al.
not include 56 discoveries yet to be approved for development 2003; Gambaro & Donagemma 2003; Rooksby 2003; Spence &
(www.npd.com). In the Norwegian sector of the basin, the Kreutz 2003). The equivalent Upper Jurassic succession in the
main proven reservoir-trap pairs are Middle Jurassic shallow Norwegian sector remains underexplored, largely due to diffi-
marine sandstones within structural traps (e.g. Sleipner Vest culties in predicting both reservoir distribution and the configu-
and Volve fields; Fig. 1) (Cockings et al. 1992; Isaksen et al. ration of structural traps. This reflects the complex control that
2002; Husmo et al. 2003), and Paleocene deep-water sandstones rift-related normal faults and salt movement exerted on coeval
in structural or combination traps (e.g. Enoch, Sleipner East sedimentation patterns.
and Glitne fields; Caers et al. 2001; Eidsvik et al. 2002). In the To address these uncertainties and aid exploration within
UK sector, Upper Jurassic, syn-rift, deep-water sandstones the South Viking Graben, this study focuses on the SW margin
form additional important reservoirs (e.g. T-Block, Brae, Miller of the Utsira High which bounds the south-eastern margin of
and Kingfisher fields; Fig. 1) (Branther 2003; Fletcher 2003a, b; the basin (Fig. 1). In particular, the study aims to outline the
Fraser et al. 2003; Gambaro & Donagemma 2003; Rooksby structural style at the level of the Jurassic succession and
2003; Spence & Kreutz 2003). To better understand the control investigate the controls on Jurassic depositional patterns and
of syn-rift tectonics on Upper Jurassic reservoir distribution, hence reservoir distribution; this is achieved through seismic-
the majority of previous studies have focused on the structural stratigraphic analysis of a 400 km2 3D seismic reflection dataset
Petroleum Geoscience, Vol. 16 2010, pp. 105–120 1354-0793/10/$15.00  2010 EAGE/Geological Society of London
DOI 10.1144/1354-079309-011
106 C. A-L. Jackson et al.

Fig. 1. (a) Simplified map and (b) cross-section of the South Viking Graben (SVG), northern North Sea. The regional geographical setting of
the study area is shown in the inset map in (a). The location of (b) is shown on (a). The study area and the locations of Figs 8 and 10 are shown
on (a). GBFZ, Graben Boundary Fault Zone; FGS, Fladen Ground Spur; LD, Ling Depression. Note that pre-, syn- and post-rift are used with
respect to the main Late Jurassic rift event.

tied to limited well data. As outlined below, it is critical to group (see compilation by Stewart 2007; Fig. 2) and it is,
establish the temporal and spatial development of pre-Jurassic therefore, expected to be characterized by non-mobile, ‘mar-
structures, as the presence and subsequent development of ginal’ evaporite facies (Fig. 3; Thomas & Coward 1996). As
these structures controls, in part, the tectono-stratigraphic such, it is hypothesized that Late Jurassic rift-related normal
evolution of the study area during the Jurassic. Furthermore, faulting, rather than differential subsidence related to salt
the evaporite-rich, Upper Permian, Zechstein Supergroup, movement, would dominate the structural style and influence
which is known to have been mobile in many areas of the coeval sedimentation patterns (cf. Clark et al. 1998; Stewart
North Sea rift system during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic (e.g. 2007). However, the results presented here demonstrate that
Cutts 1991; Erratt 1993; Stewart & Clark 1999; Davison salt movement was the primary control on the structural
et al. 2000; Stewart 2007) is present within the pre-rift (used development of the SW margin of the Utsira High and that
with respect to the late Middle to Late Jurassic rift event) mobile, basinal evaporite facies within the Zechstein Super-
succession. Current models indicate that the study area is group are more areally extensive in the South Viking Graben
located towards the north-eastern limit of the Zechstein Super- than previously documented (Fig. 3). The structural style
Minibasins on the SW margin of the Utsira High 107

Fig. 3. Simplified map of the SVG illustrating the distribution of


Zechstein Supergroup and constituent facies types within the pre-rift
fill of the basin (modified from Thomas & Coward 1996 and
Glennie et al. 2003). Only major basement-involved structures are
indicated. GBFZ, Graben Boundary Fault Zone. The map has been
modified to indicate the greater spatial extent of mobile Zechstein
Supergroup facies based on identification of the minibasin terrain on
the SW margin of the Utsira High (UH).

2010). In addition to improving the general understanding of


the tectono-stratigraphic evolution of the SW margin of the
Utsira High, this study also helps constrain facies distribution
within the Zechstein Supergroup and depositional system
development, and thus reservoir distribution, within the
Jurassic sedimentary succession.

GEOLOGICAL HISTORY AND STRATIGRAPHIC


FRAMEWORK
The structural framework and key tectono-stratigraphic
Fig. 2. Map illustrating the main halokinetic domains present in the events in the South Viking Graben are summarized here in
UK sector of the North Sea rift system (modified from Stewart order to provide a regional context for the descriptions and
2007). The present study area is located on the SW margin of the interpretations which follow.
Utsira High (UH) (boxed). The map has been modified to include
the minibasin terrain identified in this study.

observed within the study area contrasts markedly to that Permian–Triassic


encountered in the axis of the basin where rift-related normal The South Viking Graben formed in response to several
faults and large salt structures dominate the basin geometry periods of crustal extension during the Mesozoic, with the
(Thomas & Coward 1996; Jackson & Larsen 2009; Kane et al. Graben Boundary Fault Zone in the west forming the main
108 C. A-L. Jackson et al.

Fig. 4. (a) Composite stratigraphic


column for the Norwegian sector of the
northern part of the SVG. The regional
tectono-stratigraphic significance of the
various stratigraphic units is also
indicated. The ornament of the various
stratigraphic units applies to Figs 6, 7
and 11. Note that only ‘Group’ level
nomenclature is indicated for the
post-Cretaceous succession. (b)
Detailed stratigraphic column focused
on the Middle to Upper Jurassic, late
pre-rift to syn-rift interval of interest.
The stratal units (SU) discussed in the
text are indicated. Key surfaces
bounding lithostratigraphic units are
shown as solid bold lines.
Regionally-mapped seismic reflection
events and the stratal units (SU) they
bound are shown as thick bold lines
which link parts (a) and (b).

basin-bounding structure (Fig. 1). The earliest period of exten- (Fig. 3) is defined by the present-day extent of the unit as
sion and fault-controlled basin subsidence is generally consid- constrained by relatively sparse well data (Thomas & Coward
ered to have occurred in the Early–Late Permian (e.g. 1996; Glennie et al. 2003). This present-day distribution may
Gabrielsen et al. 1990; Coward 1995; Glennie 1998; Glennie & represent the true depositional extent (i.e. stratigraphic pinch-
Underhill 1998). During this time, the South Viking Graben out) of the unit or it may have originally extended further to the
was located along the northern margin of the North Permian NE and been subsequently eroded.
Salt Basin where it formed a broadly north–south-trending, Mobility of salt within the Zechstein Supergroup resulted in
fault-bounded embayment (e.g. Glennie & Underhill 1998; marked thickness variations in the unit, with a series of
Ziegler 1990; Hodgson et al. 1992). Within this embayment, a low-relief ‘pillows’ being commonly developed (see below). Salt
thick succession of evaporites were deposited (the Zechstein movement commenced during the Triassic, as indicated by
Supergroup), characterized by anhydrite and halite-rich units seismically-observed thickness variations in the Triassic succes-
(Turbot Anhydrite Formation) in the axis of the basin and sion (see below and Pegrum & Ljones 1984; Thomas &
carbonate-rich, ‘marginal’ evaporite facies (Halibut Carbonate Coward 1996). Within the South Viking Graben, the impact of
Formation) towards the basin margins (Fig. 3; Pegrum & this initial phase of salt movement on facies distribution within
Ljones 1984; Thomas & Coward 1996; Glennie et al. 2003). the non-marine Smith Bank (shale-dominated) and Skagerrak
Note that the north-eastern limit of the Zechstein Supergroup (sand-dominated) formations (Fig. 4) is largely unknown due
Minibasins on the SW margin of the Utsira High 109

to a lack of well data and generally poor seismic imaging at exploration blocks 15/6, 15/9, 16/4, 16/5, 16/7 and 16/8;
depth (Pegrum & Ljones 1984; Fisher & Mudge 1990). In Fig. 1a). The seismic data have a record length of 5500
the east–central part of the South Viking Graben, sub-salt milliseconds two-way time (ms TWT) and line spacing of
basement-involved normal faulting appears to have controlled 12.5 m in both inline (north–south) and crossline (east–west)
the location and development of large salt-walls and diapirs direction. These data have not been depth-converted, thus key
(e.g. in the vicinity of the Sleipner Vest field; Fig. 1b). measurements, such as fault throw, thickness of stratigraphic
During the Early Jurassic, the formation of the Mid-North packages, structural dips, are estimated in metres based on
Sea Dome caused uplift and erosion of the South Viking velocity data from the available wells and interval velocities
Graben (Ziegler 1990; Underhill & Partington 1993, 1994). published by Thomas & Coward (1996). Data are displayed
Consequently, Early Jurassic stratigraphic units are absent with reverse polarity (SEG European convention; Brown
within the study area and the Triassic is separated from 1999), such that a downward increase in acoustic impendence is
overlying Middle Jurassic stratigraphic units by the Mid- represented by a trough (blue) and a downward decrease in
Cimmerian Unconformity (Fig. 4; Underhill & Partington 1993, acoustic impedance is represented by a peak (red). Note that
1994). The first sediments above the unconformity are delta- this seismic dataset comprises several merged surveys and
plain deposits of the Sleipner Formation (Late Bajocian–Late amplitude balancing between adjacent surveys is, in some cases,
Bathonian), which were deposited towards the end of the sub-optimal, resulting in variations in the imaging of individual
pre-rift phase (with respect to the main Late Middle to Upper reflection events across the dataset. This variability in imaging is
Jurassic rift event). reflected in some of the maps presented and is highlighted
where appropriate.
Middle–Late Jurassic Within the study area three key, age-constrained strati-
During the Middle Jurassic (Early–Middle Callovian), collapse graphic surfaces are identified; top Triassic, Late Oxfordian and
of the Mid-North Sea Dome and activity on the Graben top Volgian (Fig. 4). As these surfaces define major changes in
Boundary Fault Zone resulted in rapid subsidence and an lithology, they are characterized by marked and abrupt changes
associated marine transgression within the South Viking in seismic velocity and density. Accordingly, they manifest on
Graben (Harris & Fowler 1987; Ziegler 1990; Cockings et al. seismic data as moderate to high-amplitude reflection events
1992; Coward 1995; Thomas & Coward 1996). During the that can be mapped over much of the study area and, based on
earliest part of the rift phase, shallow marine sediments of the tentative ties to wells (16/4–2 and 16/7–2), are interpreted to
Hugin Formation (Early Callovian–Middle Callovian) were bound two latest pre-rift to syn-rift stratal units (SU);
deposited above delta-plain deposits of the Sleipner Formation SU1 = top Triassic–Late Oxfordian (Sleipner, Hugin and
(Fig. 4). The main phase of extension and subsidence occurred Heather formations); and SU2 = latest Oxfordian–Late Volgian
during the Oxfordian to Volgian (Cockings et al. 1992; Cherry (Draupne Formation) (Fig. 4). Three additional reflection
1993; McClure & Brown 1992; Fletcher 2003a, b). Coupled events have been locally mapped to illustrate some of the key
with a eustatic rise in sea-level, the increase in fault-driven structural geometries within the pre-rift (top Rotliegend Group
subsidence rates resulted in continued deepening of the basin, and top Zechstein Supergroup) and post-rift (top Cromer
and deposition of shelf mudstones of the Heather Formation Knoll Group) successions (Fig. 4).
(Middle Callovian–Late Oxfordian) and deep marine mud-
stones of the Draupne Formation (Late Oxfordian–Late Well data
Volgian) (Fig. 4). Activity on the Graben Boundary Fault Zone Four vertical exploration wells were available for this study
and subsidence in the South Viking Graben waned during the (16/4–1, 16/4–2, 16/5–1 and 16/7–2; Fig. 1a). Two of these
latest Volgian to Ryazanian, as parts of the basin underwent a wells (16/4–1 and 16/5–1) have electrical log data (i.e. gamma-
period of inversion (e.g. Thomas & Coward 1996; Brehm 2003; ray, velocity, density and resistivity), although neither well
Fletcher 2003a, b; Jackson & Larsen 2008). penetrates a seismically-resolvable thickness of Jurassic-age
Deposition of both the upper Middle and Upper Jurassic deposits. Core data do not exist for the Jurassic interval of
successions was influenced by both thick- and thin-skinned, interest within any of the available wells. Composite logs, with
rift-related normal faulting (along the western margin and detailed cuttings descriptions and supporting original well
within the axial parts of the South Viking Graben; Harris & reports, allow the lithologies of the studied seismic-stratigraphic
Fowler 1987; Cockings et al. 1992; Thomas & Coward 1996; units to be constrained. By using velocity data from nearby
Jackson & Larsen 2009), and movement of the Zechstein wells, well data (in depth) were tied to seismic data (in
Supergroup (towards the south-eastern basin margin; Kane milliseconds two-way time) by depth conversion of key
et al. 2010). As a result, Middle and Upper Jurassic stratigraphic biostratigraphically-constrained formation tops.
units generally thicken towards rift-related faults (Thomas &
Coward 1996; Jackson & Larsen 2009) or infill elliptical basins
related to salt movement (see below). Present-day, the syn-rift STRUCTURAL STYLE
succession is buried beneath a thick succession (>2 km) of
post-rift deposits (Fig. 1b), the lowermost part of which was The present-day structural style of the study area is best
deposited during a period of inversion after the cessation of illustrated with a time-structure map of the top Triassic
Late Jurassic rifting and salt movement. The Lower Cretaceous reflection event (Fig. 5). The relatively flat-lying terrace
early post-rift succession typically onlaps rift- and/or inversion- between the crest of the Utsira High to the NE and the Sleipner
related structural highs (Thomas & Coward 1996; Jackson & Terrace to the SW is structurally complex, and is characterized
Larsen 2008). by a series of sub-circular or, more rarely, elongate structural
highs that are up to 39 km2 in plan-view. Several of these highs
are isolated, whereas others (particularly those in the NE) are
DATASET partially-linked (Fig. 5). In cross-section, these structural highs
Seismic data are up to 250 ms (c. 330 m) high (Fig. 6) and are sometimes
This study used a time-migrated 3D dataset covering 400 km2 bound by moderately steep (50–70), planar to listric normal
of the south-western margin of the Utsira High (North Sea faults which detach downwards into the Zechstein Supergroup.
110 C. A-L. Jackson et al.

Fig. 5. Time–structure map of the top of the Triassic illustrating the complex, salt-influenced structure of the study area. See text for full
discussion. The location of seismic lines in Fig. 6 are shown as are three of the wells used in the study (16/4–1, 16/4–2 and 16/7–2; note that
15/9–17 was not available for this study).

The structural highs are separated by basins with comparable normal faults) stratal geometries are well-developed in the
plan-view geometries and sizes (i.e. several tens of square northern, western and axial parts of the South Viking Graben
kilometres in plan-view and a few hundred metres deep; (e.g. Harris & Fowler 1987; Cockings et al. 1992; Thomas &
Figs 5, 6). A series of low-relief ridges serve to partially-connect Coward 1996; Brehm 2003; Fletcher 2003a, b; Jackson &
isolated structural highs and internally partition the adjacent Larsen 2009; Kane et al. 2010), these geometries are not
basins (Figs 5, 6). These ridges are up to 2 km wide and display, observed within the study area. Accordingly, these terms are
on average, 20–30% of the relief of the flanking structural not used in this study.
highs. Despite normal faulting being locally observed, seismic
sections clearly indicate that the complex morphology observed Upper Permian to Triassic
at the top of the Triassic is a result of folding rather than The structural highs are cored by Triassic strata (Smith Bank
faulting or erosion (Figs 6, 7). and Skagerrak formations; Figs 6, 7). Detailed seismic analysis
indicates that these units are internally-deformed, displaying an
SEISMIC-STRATIGRAPHY anticlinal geometry with apparent downlap onto the underlying
Zechstein Supergroup (Figs 6, 7). Significantly, and in contrast
Before the origin and timing of formation of the present-day to the Triassic succession, the Zechstein Supergroup is com-
structural style of the top Triassic can be interpreted further, monly thin below the structural highs (Figs 1b, 6, 7). More
the seismic-stratigraphy of stratal units above and beneath this rarely, the Zechstein Supergroup is locally absent and Triassic
surface must be considered. The spatial and temporal evolution units directly overlie Lower Permian deposits of the Rotliegend
of the structures is reconstructed, with emphasis placed on Group. Within intervening basins, the thickness relationships
relative thickness variations and onlap patterns within and described above are reversed, such that the Triassic succession
between the different stratigraphic units, particularly with is thin, whilst the underlying Zechstein Supergroup is relatively
respect to the structural highs and adjacent basins described thick (Figs 1b, 6, 7). Locally, the Triassic succession appears to
above. Although typical pre-rift (i.e. broadly tabular and lacking be absent and lower Middle and Upper Jurassic deposits
thickness variations with respect to rift-related normal faults) directly overlie the Zechstein Supergroup. However, the appar-
and syn-rift (i.e. highly variable thickness adjacent to rift-related ent absence of the Triassic succession in these locations may be
Minibasins on the SW margin of the Utsira High 111

Fig. 6. (a) ENE–WSW and (b) NE–SW trending seismic lines and corresponding geoseismic sections across the SW margin of the UH. Note
that the thin black vertical lines on the seismic sections are the location of ‘bends’ in the arbitrary seismic sections (see Fig. 5). Some of the key
seismic-stratigraphic relationships (i.e. onlap, (apparent) downlap, erosional truncation) are shown. Legend to stratigraphic units is the same as
in Figure 4. TMB, Triassic minibasin; JMB, Jurassic minibasin. The location of Figure 7 is shown on (a).

due to the unit being very thin and, thus, not resolved by the thickness variations within SU2 are relatively subtle because
seismic data. most of the relief in this area has been filled by SU1 (Figs 6a,
9b). Cross-sections in the east and west of the study area
Middle–Upper Jurassic indicate that SU2 blankets and only rarely directly onlaps
relief associated with the Triassic-cored structural highs (cf.
Lower Middle (i.e. Sleipner Formation) and Middle–Upper SU1 and 2 in Figs 6, 7).
Jurassic (i.e. Hugin, Heather and Draupne formations) units
thicken into the centres of basins and thin over the Triassic-
cored structural highs, indicating a general ‘Jurassic’ age for the WELL DATA CALIBRATION AND LITHOLOGY
development of these structures (Figs 6, 7, 8). More detailed
observations reveal that thickness variations and onlap relation- In order to investigate the lithology and thickness variations of
ships within the Jurassic succession vary markedly between the stratal units deposited during development of the Jurassic-age
constituent stratal units with respect to the topography basins, a NNE–SSW-trending stratigraphic correlation panel
described above (Fig. 9). SU1 (Late Bajocian–Late Oxfordian; was constructed through the four available wells (Fig. 10).
Sleipner, Hugin and Heather formations) thickens into and is Towards the NE, i.e. towards the crest of the Utsira High,
largely restricted to the basins and onlaps onto adjacent pre-Late Palaeozoic and Early Mesozoic (Jurassic) units are
structural highs (Figs 6, 7, 9a). In contrast, within SU2 (latest absent and Cretaceous age units directly overlie metamorphic
Oxfordian–Late Volgian; Draupne Formation), major and basement (i.e. 16/5–1). The absence of Permian, Triassic and
rapid thickness variations related to the underlying topography Jurassic units across much of this area are interpreted to reflect
are confined to the western part of the study area. In the east, non-deposition and/or erosion due to the persistence of the
112 C. A-L. Jackson et al.

Fig. 7. Seismic and geoseismic section illustrating the nature of


deformation within a Triassic minibasin on the SW margin of the
UH. TMB, Triassic minibasin; JMB, Jurassic minibasin. Note the
apparent downlap of the pod-fill onto the underlying Zechstein
Supergroup; this is interpreted to represent original onlap relation- Fig. 8. Seismic isochron map of the Middle to Upper Jurassic
ships which have subsequently been rotated during diapir collapse. succession (SU1 and 2; Fig. 4) on the SW margin of the UH.
See text for full discussion. Pronounced thickness variations are related to this interval infilling
minibasins (blue to purple areas) developed above subsiding Zech-
stein Supergroup salt-cored highs (red areas; see also salt-cored
structural highs and intervening basins illustrated in Fig. 5). See text
Utsira High as a relative structural high during the Permo- for full discussion. The locations of some of the wells used in this
Triassic and Late Jurassic rift events. 20.8 km to the west, away study are indicated; note that well 16/4–4 terminates in the Upper
from the crest of the Utsira High, Permian (Rotliegend Group Cretaceous and was not used in this study. 15/9–17 was also not
and Zechstein Supergroup) and Triassic (Hegre Group) units available for this study. The outline of maps shown in Figure 9 is
are relatively well-developed. The Rotliegend Group is 264 m indicated.
thick and comprises interbedded sandstone and conglomerates.
This is overlain by the Zechstein Supergroup which is 189 m TECTONO-STRATIGRAPHIC EVOLUTION OF
thick and consists of two anhydrite-dominated units (30–40 m THE SW MARGIN OF THE UTSIRA HIGH
thick) separated by a claystone-dominated unit (c. 130 m) Based on the structural styles described above and the seismic-
containing thin intervals of dolomite. The overlying Hegre stratigraphic architecture of the related depositional units, a
Group consists of a c. 40 m thick lower fluvial channel two-stage model involving Triassic followed by Jurassic mini-
sandstone-dominated unit overlain by a c. 60 m thick, finer- basin development is proposed for the tectono-stratigraphic
grained, channel ‘overbank’ unit. The Middle Jurassic is absent evolution of the study area. The second stage of the model
and only a very thin (4 m), mudstone-dominated Upper incorporates various potential mechanisms for the development
Jurassic section is present which directly overlies the Hegre of the Jurassic-age minibasins.
Group across the Mid-Cimmerian Unconformity (i.e. 16/4–1).
7.8 km further to the SW, the Upper Jurassic interval is thick
(>100 m) and mudstone-dominated (i.e. 16/4–2) within a Triassic minibasin development
basin which extends and widens towards the NW (labelled X in The apparently random distribution and complex morphology
Figs 6b, 8). Seismic observations indicate that the Middle of salt-related highs and adjacent basins in the study area
Jurassic is present and underlain by a relatively thick Triassic (Figs 5, 8) suggests that sub-salt, basement-involved normal
and Permian succession (Fig. 6b). Finally, on the south-western faulting within the Lower Permian ‘basement’ was not a key
edge of the Utsira High and on the crest of a Triassic-cored ‘trigger’ for salt movement (cf. Erratt 1993; Koyi et al. 1993;
structural high, both the Permian (Rotliegend Group at least Dooley et al. 2005; Stewart 2007). Instead, subtle spatial
29 m thick; Zechstein Supergroup 112 m thick) and Triassic variations in the amount and rates of deposition of Early
(318 m thick) are well-developed and comprise similar litho- Triassic Smith Bank Formation lacustrine mudstones may have
facies to that developed further to the NE. The sand-rich caused differential loading that both ‘triggered’ and initially
Middle Jurassic unit is 34 m thick and this is overlain by a 89 m ‘drove’ movement of salt within the Zechstein Supergroup
thick, mudstone-dominated, Upper Jurassic section (16/7–2; (Figs 11a, 11b) (cf. Hodgson et al. 1992). Variable accommo-
Fig. 10). dation development and differential loading may in turn have
Minibasins on the SW margin of the Utsira High 113

Fig. 9. (a) Seismic isochron of SU1 which includes the Sleipner, Hugin and Heather formations (Late Bajocian–Late Oxfordian) and (b) seismic
isochron of SU2 which includes the Draupne Formation (Late Oxfordian–Late Volgian). Note the variability in thickness patterns between the
two units, particularly across the central part of the study area. See text for full discussion. The locations of some of the wells used in this study
are indicated; note that well 16/4–4 and 16/4–4 terminates in the Upper Cretaceous and were not used in this study.

been initiated by the generation of subtle surface topography mentation rates typically associated with non-marine settings,
related to gentle westward tilting of the Zechstein Supergroup any accommodation is interpreted as having been relatively
on the margin of the Utsira High in response to activity on rapidly filled, thus preventing significant topography from
the Graben Boundary Fault Zone to the W (Fig. 1b) (cf. developing during the Triassic.
Cartwright et al. 2001 study of the Forth Approaches Basin, UK Formation of Triassic minibasins (TMB; Fig. 6) was inter-
North Sea). Irrespective of the exact trigger mechanism(s), the rupted by development of the North Sea Dome and formation
Zechstein Supergroup flowed laterally to form a series of of the Mid-Cimmerian Unconformity during the Early Jurassic
low-relief salt pillows, which were flanked by shallow elliptical (Underhill & Partington 1993, 1994). The exact impact of this
basins underlain by areas of salt withdrawal (Fig. 11a, b) (cf. event on salt movement within the study area is unknown,
passive diapirism; Jackson et al. 1994; Davison et al. 2000; although regional uplift may have led to variable erosion of the
Rowan et al. 2003; Hudec & Jackson 2007; Stewart 2007). underlying Triassic minibasins and adjacent salt bodies and/or
Salt-controlled basins of this type have previously been termed dissolution of the Zechstein Supergroup (see below) (cf. Clark
‘pods’ in other areas of the North Sea rift system (e.g. Hodgson et al. 1999; Cartwright et al. 2001).
et al. 1992; Smith et al. 1993), but the term ‘minibasins’, which
has been more recently and widely applied to similar structures Jurassic minibasin development
identified in other salt-influenced basins, is used here (e.g.
Clark et al. 1998; Rowan & Weimer 1998; Cartwright et al. Seismic data clearly indicate that salt-driven subsidence patterns
2001; Stewart 2007; Hudec & Jackson 2007; Hudec et al. were markedly different during the Jurassic compared to
2010). Movement of the Zechstein Supergroup, salt body the preceding Triassic phase of minibasin development
growth and minibasin deepening above depleted salt continued (Figs 6, 7, 9). Most significantly, Zechstein-cored structural
into the Late Triassic during deposition of the Skagerrak highs, which were previously sites of low accommodation
Formation (cf. Hodgson et al. 1992). Given the high sedi- capped by a relatively thin Triassic succession, became sites of
114 C. A-L. Jackson et al.

Fig. 10. Correlation panel of selected wells on the SW margin of the UH showing the thickness variations within the Permian to Upper Jurassic
succession. The line of section is shown on Figure 1a. Salt-related thickness variations between well locations are not shown, although where
units are not penetrated by wells, the thickness and geometry of these units is based on seismic observations. Wireline data were only available
for two of the four wells (16/4–1 and 16/5–1) and only thickness and lithology information were available for the other two wells (16/4–2 and
16/7–2).

minibasin formation and accommodation during the Jurassic North Sea (Clark et al. 1999; Cartwright et al. 2001). Migration
(JMB; Fig. 6). This apparent salt body collapse or withdrawal of NaCl-undersaturated pore waters, either over (superjacent),
during the Jurassic is also deemed responsible for internal along the margins of (lateral), underneath (subjacent) and/or
deformation of earlier-formed Triassic minibasins, the margins within salt-cored highs (see summary by Warren 1997) would
of which are rotated downward such that original depositional have led to the development of cavern-like voids into which the
onlaps now manifest, present-day, as downlap relationships Triassic overburden progressively collapsed (Fig. 11ci).
(Figs 6, 7) (cf. Cartwright et al. 2001). Although these downlaps Although there is no well data or clear seismic evidence to
may be primary depositional features related to the develop- confirm the presence of anhydrite-rich caprock beneath the
ment of clinoforms within the Triassic succession, this is Jurassic minibasins (i.e. at the top of previous Triassic salt-
considered highly unlikely. Clinoforms of this scale (>100 m cored highs; cf. Stewart 1993; Clark et al. 1999; Cartwright et al.
high) would probably not have developed during deposition of 2001), superjacent dissolution of the Zechstein Supergroup
predominantly lacustrine and fluvial units which characterized evaporites is an appealing mechanism to account for the
the Smith Bank and Skagerrak formations. development of these structures. This model requires that the
Based on the mechano-stratigraphy and porosity and per- crests of Zechstein-cored salt bodies were located at or near
meability structure of the stratigraphic succession within the the depositional surface (Fig. 11ci) which seems reasonable
study area, and by comparison with other salt-influenced basins given that: (i) salt bodies are likely to have been at or near the
within the North Sea rift system, three principal mechanisms depositional surface throughout the development of the
are proposed for the generation of the Jurassic minibasins; Triassic minibasins (cf. Hodgson et al. 1992; Cartwright et al.
(i) salt dissolution; (ii) early Middle Jurassic erosion; and (iii) 2001); and (ii) regional uplift and erosion occurred during the
salt remigration related to sub- and/or supra-salt extension, Early Jurassic, immediately prior to the main phase of Jurassic
and/or differential sediment loading. minibasin formation. Dissolution of the Zechstein Supergroup
also accounts for the patterns of internal deformation observed
Salt dissolution Subsurface dissolution of the Zechstein Super- within the Triassic minibasins (cf. Figs 6 and 7 with Fig. 11ci).
group may have driven at-surface subsidence and minibasin Furthermore, and in contrast to a model of differential erosion
formation during Jurassic times (Fig. 11ci). Such a mechanism (see below), the dissolution mechanism could account for
has previously been invoked to account for the development Jurassic minibasin subsidence even in areas where a thin Triassic
and migration of predominantly Triassic-age minibasins in the cover is present above the salt bodies (Fig. 6a, b). Finally, the
Forth Approaches Basin and on the West Central Shelf, central thickness of SU1 is relatively consistent between individual
Minibasins on the SW margin of the Utsira High 115

minibasins (Fig. 9a) suggesting they were of approximately data suggest that, at least locally, a thin Triassic interval is
equal depth during the Early–Middle Jurassic. This supports a preserved at the base of the Jurassic minibasins (Fig. 6); an
model of regional uplift and a regional level of sub-surface observation that is clearly incompatible with a model invoking
dissolution (Fig. 11ci). Mantling of salt-related topography by differential erosion of Triassic and Zechstein strata across a
low-permeability, Late Jurassic–Early Cretaceous mudstones regional unconformity (MCU, Fig. 11cii). Consequently,
would eventually have impeded superjacent dissolution-related although Early Jurassic differential erosion may have occurred
collapse of Zechstein-cored salt bodies. locally, it is not considered to be the principal mechanism for
Subjacent dissolution (not shown in Fig. 11ci), related to the formation of Jurassic minibasins on the SW margin of the
groundwater flow from the axis of the South Viking Graben Utsira High.
towards the Utsira High within permeable clastics of the Lower
Permian Rotliegend Group, may also have been an important Salt remigration A third possible mechanism for Jurassic mini-
process in sub-regional scale dissolution of the Zechstein basin formation is salt withdrawal and remigration into coeval
Supergroup. A similar process has been invoked by Cartwright growing structures (not shown in Fig. 11). Physical modelling
et al. (2001) to account for large volume (c. 40%) dissolution of has demonstrated that this process is common during regional
the Zechstein Supergroup in the Broad Fourteens Approaches supra-salt extension (e.g. Vendeville & Jackson 1992). The lack
Basin, UK North Sea (see their figure 13b). Although this of normal faults in the Jurassic minibasin succession, both
mechanism accounts for sub-regional and essentially uniform adjacent to and overlying the salt-cored structural highs, (see
dissolution and subsidence of the Zechstein Supergroup, it Figs 5, 6, 8) argues strongly against supra-salt extension as a key
does not account for the strong coupling between Triassic driver for salt body subsidence. An alternative mechanism to
salt-cored highs and Jurassic minibasins (Figs 6, 11d). trigger salt remigration is differential loading related to spatially-
Dissolution-related collapse by any of the mechanisms variable sedimentation patterns. If sedimentation patterns
described above is considered a viable mechanism for the changed from the Triassic to Middle Jurassic, salt may have
formation of Jurassic minibasins. However, it is not clear if: (i) remigrated to a position underneath Triassic-filled depocentres,
groundwater could penetrate so deeply (i.e. up to several resulting in ‘inflation’ of areas that were previously character-
hundred metres) beneath Triassic-capped salt-cored highs; and ized by thin salt and subsidence. However, this mechanism of
(ii) dissolution of the Zechstein Supergroup was sufficient to remigration is deemed unfeasible as, based on mechanical
balance the volume of sediments preserved in the Jurassic considerations (Hudec & Jackson 2007), it is considered
minibasins. In addition, physical modelling indicates that disso- unlikely that salt would flow from within the salt-cored highs
lution of salt bodies is often associated with the formation of to significantly more high-pressured areas beneath the deep
both normal and reverse faults within the overburden (Ge & Triassic minibasins. Similarly, based on mechanical considera-
Jackson 1998). These are not observed within the study area, tions, it is unlikely that local depletion of the Zechstein
although such small-displacement structures may be below the Supergroup would have been augmented by regional migration
limit of seismic data resolution. Alternatively, their absence may of the unit westwards from the more shallowly-buried, less
be associated with the mechanical properties of the poorly- pressured basin margin towards the more-deeply buried, more
lithified Jurassic overburden, which would be more likely to pressured axis of the South Viking Graben. In addition, and
undergo ductile (folding) rather than brittle (faulting) deforma- perhaps most critically, regional migration and withdrawal of
tion. the Zechstein Supergroup does not explain the strong inverse
spatial relationship between the Triassic and Jurassic minibasins
Early Middle Jurassic differential erosion Regional uplift during the (Figs 6, 11d).
Early Jurassic may have promoted differential erosion of
Triassic minibasins and adjacent salt-cored highs, with the Summary and other considerations
former being more resistant to subaerial erosion than the latter. Whatever mechanism triggered the formation of Jurassic mini-
This would be especially true if coupled with varying degrees of basins above Triassic salt-cored highs, seismic data indicate
dissolution (Fig. 11cii). This process could have continued into pronounced spatial shifts in the loci of minibasin formation and
the early part of the Middle Jurassic in response to erosion filling during the Jurassic. For example, deposition of SU1
associated with Sleipner Formation fluvial systems. As a result during the Late Bajocian–Late Oxfordian (SU1; Sleipner, Hugin
of differential erosion, topographic depressions would have and Heather formations) occurred within a complex array of
developed above the earlier-formed salt-cored highs, whereas isolated and partially-linked minibasins (Fig. 9a). In contrast,
the Triassic units would form the core of adjacent, less erodable thickness patterns within the Late Oxfordian–Volgian age SU2
topographic highs (cf. Hodgson et al. 1992; Høiland et al. 1993; (Draupne Formation) suggest that by the latest Oxfordian, the
Wakefield et al. 1993; Stewart, 1993; Stewart, 2007). This model majority of minibasins in the eastern part of the study area had
would account for the superimposition of Jurassic minibasins been infilled (Fig. 9b), whilst underfilled minibasins persisted to
on previous Triassic structural highs, and the lateral offset of the west. This variability in the filling history of Jurassic
Triassic and Jurassic minibasins (Figs 6, 11cii). In addition, minibasins may reflect several factors. For example, minibasins
regional sub-aerial erosion associated with the Early Jurassic in the east may have been first to fill due to higher sediment
uplift event would explain the presence of approximately equal supply in this area. Alternatively, if sediment supply was equal
thicknesses of SU1 within individual minibasins (Fig. 9a). across the study area, the variability may indicate that mini-
A number of observations discount Early to Middle Jurassic basins in the east stopped subsiding earlier than those to the
differential erosion as the main driver for Jurassic minibasin west. This may have been due to earlier ‘grounding’ of the mini-
development. First, seismic-scale truncation is not observed at basins in this area, which may in turn have been related to the
the margins of the Triassic minibasins, even though the Jurassic initial thickness and mobility of the Zechstein Supergroup (cf.
minibasins are up to several hundred metres deep (cf. Figs 6 Hodgson et al. 1992; Stewart 2007). If Early Jurassic dissolution
and 11cii). Secondly, differential erosion does not account for is invoked as the main driver on Jurassic minibasin formation
the folding and apparent collapse of the margins of the then, under the influence of equal sediment supply, the earlier-
underlying Triassic minibasins associated with Jurassic mini- filling of minibasins in the may reflect the formation of deeper
basin development (Figs 6, 7, 11ci and 11d). Finally, seismic minibasins due to a greater amount of dissolution in this area.
116 C. A-L. Jackson et al.
Minibasins on the SW margin of the Utsira High 117

Salt movement eventually waned during the latest Jurassic although Permo-Triassic normal faults are observed in the
and Cretaceous, although thinning of Lower Cretaceous units sub-salt basement succession (Fig. 6), it appears that very few
across underlying highs, suggests that early post-rift subsidence, of these structures were reactivated during the Jurassic. In
driven by differential compaction across the underlying Jurassic contrast, in axial parts of the South Viking Graben (e.g. beneath
minibasins, continued until at least the Albian. The diminishing the Sleipner West field and further westwards within the Ve
influence of salt during the post-rift may reflect the final sub-basin; Fig. 1b), it appears that many of the Permo-Triassic
grounding of predominantly Triassic minibasins and local structures were reactivated during the Late Jurassic rift event,
depletion of the Zechstein Supergroup source layer. Alterna- thereby causing the earlier-formed, salt-related structural style
tively, and as stated above, mantling of the salt-related topogra- to be strongly overprinted (Kane et al. 2010). A similar over-
phy by low-permeability mudstones of the latest Jurassic and printing of previously-formed structural styles has also been
Early Cretaceous would have impeded superjacent dissolution- documented in the northern part of the North Sea rift system
related collapse of Zechstein-cored salt bodies. Additionally, in locations where salt (Zechstein Supergroup) is absent (e.g.
permeability reduction within the Rotliegend Group clastics, Færseth 1996; Tomasso et al. 2008).
due to continued burial and cementation, may have reduced
fluid flux through this unit and reduced subjacent dissolution.
Implications for Middle and Upper Jurassic sediment
dispersal and reservoir development
DISCUSSION
The tectono-stratigraphic model presented here has implica-
Structural evolution of the South Viking Graben and tions for Jurassic sediment dispersal patterns and reservoir
distribution of the Zechstein Supergroup distribution on the SW margin of the Utsira High (Fig. 10).
The salt-influenced structural style observed in the study area is During the Late Bajocian–Late Bathonian, north- to
geometrically and genetically similar to that encountered in NW-flowing fluvial systems of the Sleipner Formation
minibasin terrains elsewhere within the North Sea rift system (Cockings et al. 1992; Husmo et al. 2003) would have been
(e.g. Hodgson et al. 1992; Høiland et al. 1993; Wakefield et al. routed along the axis of the Jurassic minibasins and may have
1993; Clark et al. 1998, 1999; Cartwright et al. 2001; Stewart been able to ‘spill’ across low-relief ridges between the larger
2007). This structural style differs from that observed in the Triassic-cored structural highs. Subsequently, during the Early–
main part of the South Viking Graben where sub-salt, Middle Callovian, a relative sea-level rise occurred and the
basement-involved normal faulting and associated large-scale minibasin terrain on the SW margin of the Utsira High would
halokinesis (e.g. diapirism) dominate (Fig. 1b) (Pegrum & have become flooded and occupied by a series of shallow
Ljones 1984; Thomas & Coward 1996; Husmo et al. 2003). marine embayments. These depocentres would have received
This spatial variability in structural style over relatively short sediment from the NE, from Utsira High-derived fluvial
(i.e. <10 km) length-scales may reflect a combination of several systems, or from their western or south-western seaward ends,
factors. First, facies distribution within the Zechstein Super- by longshore sediment transport processes. In addition, sedi-
group may be different to that currently suggested by ment could have been locally derived from the crest of exposed
the somewhat sparse well data (Thomas & Coward 1996). Triassic-cored pods (cf. Hodgson et al. 1992; Stewart 1993). A
These data suggest the north-easterly pinch-out of the mobile broadly similar salt-controlled, Late Jurassic, shallow marine
(halite-dominated) part of the Zechstein Supergroup is to the depositional setting has been interpreted from both the western
SW of the present study area and that non-mobile, anhydrite (Wakefield et al. 1993; Stewart et al. 1999) and eastern (Stewart
and carbonate-dominated strata characterize the unit in the area 1993) margins of the Central North Sea (Fig. 2). In all these
considered here. The identification of distinct salt-related struc- settings it has been indicated that reservoir sandstone deposi-
tural styles in this study implies that the mobile part of the tional patterns are complex due to the pre-existing and syn-
Zechstein Supergroup extends further to the NE than pre- depositional development of salt and fault-related topography.
viously documented (Figs 2, 3). This highlights the importance Furthermore, in shallow-marine systems, reservoir distribution
of the internal mechano-stratigraphy of the Zechstein Super- is further complicated due to the interaction of various extra-
group on controlling subsequent structural styles in the North and intra-basinal sediment supply, transport and depositional
Sea rift system (Clark et al. 1998; Stewart 2007). Secondly, processes (e.g. wave, tides and rivers).

Fig. 11. A sequence of broadly east–west-trending schematic cross-sections across the study area illustrating the temporal and spatial
development of Triassic and Jurassic minibasins in response to movement of the Zechstein Supergroup on the SW margin of the UH. Note that
ornamentation of stratigraphic units is the same as that used in Figures 4 and 6. This model is broadly based on the ‘podology’ model developed
by Hodgson et al. (1992) for salt-related structural styles in the Central Graben, UK North Sea. (a) Early Triassic: initial stage of minibasin
development (TMB, Triassic minibasin) and salt wall formation within the Zechstein Supergroup; (b) Middle Triassic: minibasin deepening and
salt wall growth due to continued sediment loading. Note that pods in the central and eastern parts of the slope (labelled W and X) are
interpreted to have become grounded at this time; (ci) Late Triassic–Early Jurassic: regional Early Jurassic uplift, relative base level fall (from
position ① to ②) and formation of the Mid-Cimmerian Unconformity (MCU) is accompanied by subterranean dissolution of the Zechstein
Supergroup and the initiation of collapse of the overburden to form the Jurassic minibasins. Dashed grey line indicates the previous position of
the top of the Zechstein Supergroup. Dissolution-related subsidence may have been locally augmented by differential erosion of Triassic
minibasins and salt-cored highs by Sleipner Formation fluvial systems. Note the deformation and seismic-stratigraphic geometries associated with
this mechanism for Jurassic minibasin formation and the similarities to data presented in Figures 6 and 7. See text for full discussion; (cii) Early
Jurassic – Regional Early Jurassic uplift, relative base level fall (from position ① to ②) and formation of the Mid-Cimmerian Unconformity
(MCU) is accompanied by major differential erosion of Triassic minibasins and adjacent salt-cored highs. This results in the formation of Jurassic
minibasins above the more easily erodible salt-cored highs. Note that subaerial incision may have been associated with, and augmented by,
dissolution of the Zechstein Supergroup evaporites. Dashed grey line indicates the previous position of the top of the Zechstein Supergroup.
Note the seismic-stratigraphic geometries associated with this mechanism for Jurassic minibasin formation and the differences to data presented
in Figures 6 and 7. See text for full discussion; (d) Middle–Late Jurassic: Filling of minibasins (JMB, Jurassic minibasins) formed due to
dissolution-related subsidence (see (ci)). Note that minibasins in the east are filled earlier (i.e. by SU1) than those in the west due to either earlier
cessation of subsidence related to Triassic minibasin grounding and/or higher sediment supply to that area. In contrast, minibasins in the central
and western parts of the study area continue to subside into latest Jurassic. See text for full discussion. BCU, Base Cretaceous Unconformity.
118 C. A-L. Jackson et al.

Ongoing relative sea-level rise during the Late Jurassic greatly improved the manuscript. Thanks also to Landmark Graphics
would have resulted in flooding of the SW margin of the Utsira Cooperation (LGC) for provision of Seisworks and Stratworks
High and drowning of the previous shallow marine embay- software via an Academic Licence Agreement. The views expressed
in this paper are the authors and do not necessarily represent those
ments. As a result, particularly in the west of the study area, of Statoil ASA.
complex seabed bathymetry would have been present due to
the presence of underfilled minibasins. During the early stages
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Received 27 May 2009; revised typescript accepted 1 March 2010.

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