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The anoxic aquatic environment is a mass of water so depleted in oxygen that virtually all aerobic biologic activity has ceased. Anoxic conditions occur where the demand for oxygen in the water column exceeds the supply. Oxygen demand relates to surface biologic productivity, whereas oxygen supply largely depends on water circulation, which is governed by global climatic patterns and the Coriolis force.
Organic matter in sediments below anoxic water is commonly more abundant and more lipid-rich than under oxygenated water mainly because of the absence of benthonic scavenging. The specific cause for preferential lipid enrichment probably relates to the biochemistry of anaerobic bacterial activity. Geochemical-sedimentologic evidence suggests that potential oil source beds are and have been deposited in the geologic past in four main anoxic settings as follows.
1. Large anoxic lakes:
Permanent stratification promotes development of anoxic bottom water, particularly in large lakes which are not subject to seasonal overturn, such as Lake Tanganyika. Warm equable climatic conditions favor lacustrine anoxia and nonmarine oil source bed deposition. Conversely, lakes in temperate climates tend to be well oxygenated.
2. Anoxic silled basins:
Only those landlocked silled basins with positive water balance tend to become anoxic. Typical are the Baltic and Black Seas. In arid-region seas (Red and Mediterranean Seas), evaporation exceeds river inflow, causing negative water balance and well-oxygenated bottom waters. Anoxic conditions in silled basins on oceanic shelves also depend upon overall climatic and water-circulation patterns. Silled basins should be prone to oil source bed deposition at times of worldwide transgression, both at high and low paleolatitudes. Silled-basin geometry, however, does not automatically imply the presence of oil source beds.
3. Anoxic layers caused by upwelling:
These develop only when the oxygen supply in deep water cannot match demand owing to high surface biologic productivity. Examples are the Benguela Current and Peru coastal upwelling. No systematic correlation exists between upwelling and anoxic conditions because deep oxygen supply is often sufficient to match strongest demand. Oil source beds and phosphorites resulting from upwelling are present preferentially at low paleolatitudes and at times of worldwide transgression.
4. Open-ocean anoxic layers:
These are present in the oxygen-minimum layers of the northeastern Pacific and northern Indian Oceans, far from deep, oxygenated polar water sources. They are analogous, on a reduced scale, to worldwide "oceanic anoxic events" which occurred at global climatic warmups and major transgressions, as in Late Jurassic and middle Cretaceous times. Known marine oil source bed systems are not randomly distributed in time but tend to coincide with periods of worldwide transgression and oceanic anoxia.
Geochemistry, assisted by paleogeography, can greatly help petroleum exploration by identifying paleoanoxic events and therefore widespread oil source bed systems in the stratigraphic record. Recognition of the proposed anoxic models in ancient sedimentary basins should help in regional stratigraphic mapping of oil shale and oil source beds.
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