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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


Volume: 75 (1991)

Issue: 12. (December)

First Page: 1852

Last Page: 1863

Title: Implications for Organic Maturation Studies of Evidence for a Geologically Rapid Increase and Stabilization of Vitrinite Reflectance at Peak Temperature: Cerro Prieto Geothermal System, Mexico (1)

Author(s): CHARLES E. BARKER (2)


A short-term rapid heating and cooling of the rock in well M-94 below 1300 m was caused by a pulse of hot water passing through the edge of the Cerro Prieto, Mexico, geothermal system. Below 1300 m, the peak paleotemperatures were about 225-250 degrees C, but equilibrium well log temperatures indicate a decrease to 150-210 degrees C at present. This hot water pulse sharply increased vitrinite reflectance to levels comparable to those measured in the central part of the system, even though studies of apatite fission-track annealing indicate that the duration of heating was only 10{0}-10{1} yr in M-94, in contrast to 10{3}-10{4} yr in the central part of the system.

These data indicate that sedimentary organic matter chemically reacts quickly to temperature increases of about 125 degrees C above ambient, even when the higher temperature existed for only 10{0}-10{1} yr. The quick change of the vitrinite reflectance geothermometer indicates that thermal maturation reactions can stabilize, after a geologically short period of heating, to a level consistent with peak temperature under moderate to high-temperature diagenesis in open, fluid-rich, geothermal systems.

Cerro Prieto is one of the most intensively studied and well-known geothermal systems in the world. Thus, data from Cerro Prieto are a benchmark to compare with the predictions of published thermal maturation models such as those formulated by J. Karweil, N. V. Lopatin, and A. K. Burnham and J. J. Sweeney. These thermal maturation models inaccurately predict duration of heating at Cerro Prieto. The kinetic equations used in these models explicitly allow thermal maturation to continue indefinitely at peak temperature, which does not seem to be the case at Cerro Prieto.

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