AAPG Middle East Region Geoscience Technology Workshop

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Understanding Siliciclastic Input into Mesozoic Depositional Systems of the Arabian Plate: An Earth Systems Science Approach


During the Mesozoic Era, episodes of siliciclastic input onto the dominantly carbonate Arabian shelf form important elements of petroleum plays, creating proven and potential reservoirs, source rocks, and seals. We review the temporal and spatial extent of these siliciclastic episodes in the context of tectonic, climatic, and eustatic events affecting the Arabian Plate that may have been acting independently or coincidently to control siliciclastic input by means of hinterland uplift, influence on denudation and run off, incision, and creation of sediment pathways and accommodation space. Particularly important phases of siliciclastic input are all associated with humid climate episodes and occur in (1) the Early Triassic (Olenekian Sudair shale) coincident with major eustatic lowering and rifting on the northern part of the Arabian plate; (2) Late Triassic (late Norian initial Minjur Sandstone) coincident with East Mediterranean rifting and a major eustatic sea-level fall; (3) Middle Jurassic (early Bajocian initial Dhruma Sandstone) coincident with localized uplift and immediately postdating a eustatic sea-level fall in the Aalenian; (4) Early Cretaceous (late Valanginian–Barremian Zubair sandstone) postdating a Valanginian eustatic lowering and uplift in northern and western Arabia; (5) Mid-Cretaceous (latest Aptian–middle Albian Burgan Sandstone) coincident with Arabian shield uplift and a eustatic low. Other episodes of siliciclastic input also occur, although they tend to be more localized. Important seals are formed during the progradation of siliciclastic systems “poisoning” carbonate shelves or during transgression when distal pro-delta siliciclastic systems retreat back across the shelf, capping up-systems tract fluvial or shelfal sandstones, or when they are located above major unconformities, capping carbonate reservoirs. Siliciclastic reservoirs include the well-known and prolific fluvial and paralic sandstones that contribute, for example, to the Burgan field in Kuwait and to the Zubair and Nahr Umr reservoirs of the northern Gulf. Lowstand sands (both lowstand deltas and slope and basin gravity flow deposits) form viable, but underexplored, reservoir targets. Source rocks may be deposited in front of prograding delta systems linked to high nutrient supply and water stratification caused by freshwater overhang, leading to anoxia and preservation of organic matter. A well-known example is the Kazhdumi Formation of the Iranian Zagros. A better understanding of the fundamental controls on siliciclastic input onto the Arabian plate will enable better predictions of these key petroleum play elements and a better understanding of the subsurface risk associated with their occurrence.