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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 86, No. 5 (May 2002), P. 823-840.

Copyright ©2002. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Halokinetic sequence stratigraphy adjacent to the El Papalote diapir, northeastern Mexico

Katherine A. Giles,1 Timothy F. Lawton2

1Institute of Tectonic Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, 88003; email: [email protected]
2Institute of Tectonic Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, 88003; email: [email protected]


Kate Giles received a B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1981), an M.S. degree from the University of Iowa (1985), and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Arizona (1991). She has worked as a senior carbonate research specialist for Exxon Production Research Company and is currently an associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at New Mexico State University and director of the Institute of Tectonic Studies. She specializes in carbonate depositional systems, sequence stratigraphy, and sedimentation as it relates to tectonics.

Tim Lawton received a B.A. degree in environmental studies from the University of California-Santa Cruz (1973), an M.S. degree in geology from Stanford University (1980), and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Arizona (1983). He has worked as a development geologist and research sedimentologist at Sohio Petroleum Company and is currently a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at New Mexico State University. He specializes in clastic depositional systems, stratigraphy, and tectonic analysis.


This research was supported in part by the donors of the Petroleum Research Fund, administered by the American Chemical Society (Grant 33339-AC8 to Giles and Lawton) and by the La Popa Basin Joint Industry Consortium. Additional support was provided by the Latin America Small Grants Program and Minigrant RC95-073 from New Mexico State University. We thank F. Vega-Vera for unpublished biostratigraphic data from the Difunta Group. We thank M. Rowan, F. Vega-Vera, B. Vendeville, B. Goldhammer, B. Hart, J. Peijs, and C. Yeilding for thought-provoking discussions of the El Papalote diapir and growth strata. We thank AAPG Bulletin reviewers K. McClay, B. Prather, and C. Yeilding for thorough reviews of this article and C. Talbot and T. Wilson for insightful reviews of a previous version.


The stratigraphy adjacent to the El Papalote diapir in the La Popa basin, northeastern Mexico, displays depositional thinning, abrupt lateral facies changes, and intense local deformation near the diapir. The strata comprise a series of halokinetic sequences that provide a means of local correlation of stratal packages in an otherwise complex patchwork of seemingly disparate facies. Halokinetic sequences are relatively conformable successions of growth strata genetically influenced by near-surface or extrusive salt movement and are locally bounded at the top and base by angular unconformities that become disconformable to conformable with increasing distance from the diapir.

Halokinetic sequences differ from traditional depositional sequences in scale and mechanism of formation. Halokinetic sequences at El Papalote diapir could not be traced farther than 1 km from the diapir, whereas depositional sequences are typically basin wide. Halokinetic sequences form as the rate of net vertical diapiric rise varies relative to the local sediment-accumulation rate, whereas depositional sequences form as the accommodation rate varies relative to the regional sediment-accumulation rate. Angular unconformities form when the net diapiric-rise rate exceeds the local sediment-accumulation rate, allowing diapiric inflation at the surface to generate steep, unstable slopes along which subjacent growth strata are either truncated by attendant slope failure or by current or shoreface erosion. In the case of slope failure, the sequence-bounding unconformity is typically overlain by mass-transport deposits derived from gravitational failure of the domed salt body. Increasing the local sediment-accumulation rate relative to the net diapiric-rise rate results in diapir onlap and overlap, which suppress diapiric surface topography and erosion.

Halokinetic sequences are previously unrecognized but probably common features around near-surface or extrusive salt bodies in salt basins found elsewhere in the world. Their understanding may be used to predict the geometry, distribution, and quality of reservoir facies directly adjacent to salt bodies and provide critical data to determine the complex evolution of migrating passive salt bodies.

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