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Carbonate Systems and Unconventionals

Two projects on shallow-water carbonates concentrate on the formation of ooids and Holocene islands on Great Bahama Bank, while a third one investigates how sediment is transported off the platform and also quantifies where and how much is deposited on the slope and in the basin. The question of how seaways between platforms get filled to produce a large distally steepened ramp is studied in seismic data from the Yucatan Platform, where a trough that was the site of the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous gets filled with prograding clinoforms.

For the past two years, the pandemic has disrupted some field work and research expeditions but we have retrieved formidable data from the OceanX ‘Deep Blue’ cruise that was completed in the Fall of 2020 in the northern Red Sea. This cruise resulted in a trove of geophysical and geochemical data for the investigation of the architecture and processes in an active rift basin. This year the focus is on the brine pool and the abyssal microbialites in in the Gulf of Aqaba. Likewise, a short core through reef that flourished during the last glacial maximum offshore Mozambique was made available to the CSL. This core contains diverse coral species and abundant microbialites that together form a high porosity but stiff framework. 

Several years ago, we embarked on a research effort in carbonate contourite depositional systems and we continue this initiative with three projects. One tests the hypothesis that increasing current speed along platforms increases that the slope angles of the platform. The second is a petrophysical study that potentially helps discriminate coarse from fine-grained drift deposits. A third project  will elucidate the depositional processes in the distal portion of the delta drift in Maiella using 3D GPR data to visualize the sedimentary structures and reworked beds. In addition, we continue to assemble a database on the dimensions, composition, and petrophysical properties of carbonate drifts.

In the unconventional reservoirs in the Neuquén Basin we assess the burial history of the Vaca Muerta Formation utilizing clumped isotopes and elemental signature for productivity and preservation of organic matter in the basin. We extend the research to the Agrio Formation that contains the marine strata above the Mulichinco Formation. What makes this formation attractive is not just the fact that also has high TOC but that the evolution is similar to the evolution in the Vaca Muerta Formation with the basin undergoing a flooding event after which conditions were established that promote the preservation of organic matter. 

Current Projects

Characterization of The Agrio Formation, Neuquén Basin, Argentina


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Investigators: Ralf J. Weger, Peter K. Swart, and Gregor P. Eberli

Project Objectives

  • Characterize the facies, TOC distribution, geochemical signature and petrophysical properties of the Agrio Formation in the Neuquén Basin.
  • Compare these data with the existing data set in the Vaca Muerta Formation to assess similarities and differences in these two marine stages of the basin following terrestrial conditions.


Seismic Facies and Stratigraphy of the Cenozoic Succession in the Yucatán Platform


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Investigators: Elizabeth Guzmán, Gregor P. Eberli and Sara Bashah

Project Objectives

  • Delineate the evolution of the Yucatán Platform that was divided into two blocks by a north-south oriented trough at the time of the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous to the modern smooth platform.

  • Estimate the age of the Cenozoic sequences filling the trough and the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatán Platform.

  • Assess the progradational geometry and direction of the Cenozoic sequences to determine the influence of sea level and currents on the progradation.



Evolution of South Joulter Cay, Great Bahama Bank – A Tale of Storm Deposition?


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Investigators: Paul (Mitch) Harris, Juan Carlos Laya, and Miles Frazer

Project Objectives:

  • To further calibrate the timing of key depositional events within the history of South Joulter Cay by radiometric dating of select island ridges.

  • Thereby testing whether the initial ridges of the island, as well as the ridges associated with shifts between growth stages, are the results of storm deposition and resulting changes to the local hydrodynamic setting.


The Origin of Peloidal Nuclei in Bahamian Ooids


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Investigators: Mara R. Diaz and Gregor P. Eberli

Project Objectives:

  • Determine the provenance of the nucleus in the ooid shoals in the Bahamas.

  • Test the hypothesis that the peloidal nuclei are produced on the shoal itself.



Over the Edge: Linking On-Platform Processes to Deposition Off the Margin of the Great Bahama Bank


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Investigators: Cecilia Lopez-Gamundi, Paul (Mitch) Harris, Gregor P. Eberli, and Sam Purkis

Project Objectives:

  • To assess the Great Bahama Bank (GBB) sediment budget.

  • Reconcile platform-top sediment production and transport with off-platform deposition.


The NEOM Brine Pool – The First Discovery in the Gulf of Aqaba


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Investigators: Sam Purkis, Hannah Shernisky, Gaëlle Duchâtellier, Amanda Oehlert, Peter K. Swart, and James Klaus

Project Objectives:

  • To characterize the physical and chemical characteristics of this new type of pool.

  • Based on coring and radiometric dating, our second aim is to quantify its stratigraphic setting.

  • Our final aim is to describe the eukaryote and prokaryote life which thrives in the harsh brine environment.


Abyssal Microbialites in the Gulf of Aqaba


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Investigators: Hannah Shernisky, James Klaus, and Sam Purkis

Project Objectives:

  • The NEOM brine pool is at 1770 m water depth and the main pool is 260 m long and 70 m wide.

  • The NEOM pool has the lowest sulfate/chloride ratio yet documented in the Red Sea-Gulf of Aqaba system, emphasizing the activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria that contribute to the pool’s rich microbial fauna.

  • At the periphery of the pool, the interface between normal marine waters and the anoxic brine delivers a niche in which a rich microbial community develops, stratified by the preferred metabolisms of its occupants.

  • Abyssal chemosynthetic stromatolites are conspicuous facies in the stratigraphy of the brine pool and its surroundings.



Microbialites within a Lowstand Coral Reef, Offshore Mozambique


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Investigators: Iva Tomchovska, Gregor P. Eberli, James Klaus, Peter K. Swart, and Amanda Oehlert

Project Objectives:

  • To investigate the unique coral and microbial assemblages of a core section dated between 13400 to 13600 kyrs that formed in the last glacial period.

  • Quantify the respective amounts of corals, microbialites and allochems in the reef framework.

  • Reconstruct seawater chemistry and (anoxic or oxic?) conditions for microbial crust formation.

  • Investigate the role of microbial binding in the early marine diagenesis and test the strength of these microbial bindings.



Carbonate Contourite Drift Systems – The Ongoing Research Initiative


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Investigators: Gregor P. Eberli, Sara Bashah, Elizabeth Guzman, Jesus Reolid, and Ralf J. Weger

Project Objectives:

  • Investigate the role and influence of ocean currents on the architecture of shallow-water carbonate ramps, shelves and isolated platforms.

  • Refine depositional models and current processes in coarse-grained drift systems.

  • Assess the petrophysical characteristics of current-controlled deposition for improved interpretation of carbonate contourites and contourite drifts.

  • Continue assembling dimensions of carbonate contourite systems for a comprehensive data base of such systems.


The Relationship Between Carbonate Slopes and Contour Currents - year two


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Investigators: Sara Bashah and Gregor P. Eberli

Project Objectives:

  • Current strength along carbonate ramps, shelves and isolated platforms determines the

- dip of the platform flanks

- dip of the mounded contourite drift

- grain size of the contourite drift.
  • Carbonate slopes steepen worldwide in the late Middle Miocene after the onset of modern ocean currents at approximately 13 Ma.


3D-GPR Stratal Slicing of Sedimentary Structures in a Carbonate Contourite Deposit - The Next Steps


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Investigators: Mark Grasmueck and Gregor P. Eberli

Project Objectives: 

  • Extract 3D sedimentary structures imaged in the 3D-GPR cube to refine the depositional model in the distal portion of the coarse-grained delta drift in the Maiella mountains.

  • Refine the Geomodel used for stratal slicing by using a denser fault network and noise reduction in improved 3D-GPR migration.

  • Ground-truth the Geomodel with drilling of short cores and outcrop.




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