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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 86, No. 5 (May 2002), P. 841-862.

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

Outcrop and behind-outcrop characterization of a late Miocene slope fan system, Mt. Messenger Formation, New Zealand

Greg H. Browne,1 Roger M. Slatt2

1Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, 41 Bell Road South, Lower Hutt, New Zealand; email: [email protected]
2School of Geology and Geophysics, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 73019; email: [email protected]


Greg Browne is a reservoir sedimentologist at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS). Until recently, he has been the research leader of the petroleum geology program at GNS. His sedimentological research has specialized in deep-water and fluvial successions. Much of that time has been spent working on the Mt. Messenger Formation. Prior to that, he worked for the New Zealand Geological Survey on varied basin studies projects. He holds degrees in geology and geography from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and a Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Roger M. Slatt is the director of the School of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Oklahoma (2000 to present). He formerly was head of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines (1992-2000) and director of the Rocky Mountain Region Petroleum Technology Transfer Council (1995-2000). After receiving his Ph.D. in 1970 from the University of Alaska, he taught geology for eight years at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Arizona State University. He then spent 14 years in the petroleum industry with Cities Service Research, ARCO Research, and ARCO International Oil and Gas Co. before joining the Colorado School of Mines in 1992. He has written more than 90 articles and made numerous presentations on petroleum geology, reservoir geology, seismic and sequence stratigraphy, shallow marine and turbidite depositional systems, geology of shale, glacial and Pleistocene-Quaternary geology, and geochemical exploration. He sits on numerous professional society committees, has organized technical conferences for AAPG, and teaches short courses for industry and AAPG on the petroleum geology of turbidite systems and on applied reservoir characterization. In 1996 he received the AAPG Distinguished Service Award, in 1999 was Esso Australia Distinguished Lecturer, and in 2001-2002 was AAPG Distinguished Lecturer.


The financial assistance of Amoco, Arco, Conoco, Exxon, Norsk-Hydro, Petrocorp, Schlumberger, and Texaco is gratefully appreciated. Funding was also provided (to Browne) by the New Zealand Foundation for Research Science and Technology. Institute of Geological and Nuclear Science staff undertook the drilling of the two boreholes (we particularly wish to thank D. MacFarlan) and the acquisition and processing of the seismic reflection profile reported here. Bob Davis of Schlumberger Wireline and Testing is thanked for his interest and assistance in the project. Schlumberger undertook the logging of the two boreholes. Permission to work on the property of R. Bryant is gratefully appreciated. T. Elliston (GNS) assisted with contouring data presented in Figure 4. Discussions with colleagues on various aspects of the study, particularly G. Clemenceau, J. Coleman, M. Gardner, N. Hurley, P. King, A. Melhuish, and R. Spang, helped clarify several issues related to our study. Figures were drafted by C. Hume, S. Shaw, and J. Smith (GNS), and by L. Sweezey (Colorado School of Mines). Comments on the manuscript by M. Chapin, P. King, J. Stainforth, and F. Zelt are gratefully appreciated. This article is GNS publication number 2201.


The late Miocene Mt. Messenger Formation of Taranaki, New Zealand, consists mainly of well-sorted, very fine to fine-grained thin-bedded sandstone and siltstone deposited in middle- and upper-bathyal water depths. Lithofacies are dominated by turbidite beds, comprising planar-laminated and climbing-ripple-laminated sandstone and massive siltstone.

These strata were studied in a 200 m-thick, 4 km-long coastal outcrop section and in two, behind-outcrop boreholes from which Fullbore Formation Micro Imager (FMI) and Platform Express logs and core were obtained. The boreholes were 47 and 105 m deep and were drilled about 100 m behind the cliff outcrop about 150 m apart. In addition, a high-resolution seismic reflection line was shot adjacent to the coastal cliff and was tied to the updip outcrop exposures.

The outcrop section displays abundant erosional cutout of beds by scour or channels that considerably limit lateral bed continuity. At a smaller scale, bed continuity is also interrupted by bioturbation structures.

We interpret the outcrop section as a series of vertically stacked or shingled slope fan or channel-levee/overbank complex deposits, comparable to Mutti type III fans. Comparison of behind-outcrop dipmeter, seismic reflection profiles, and FMI data with outcrop data indicates that three main channel-levee/overbank depositional units are present. Siltstone and alternating thin-bedded sandstone and siltstone that display an upward decrease in dip magnitude and variable dip orientation on dipmeter logs are interpreted as channel fill deposits. Vertically stacked, interleaved packages of thin-bedded, typically planar-laminated sandstone (Bouma Tb divisions), climbing-ripple-laminated sandstone (Tc), and siltstone (Te) with complex upward-decreasing dipmeter patterns are interpreted as proximal channel-levee and overbank deposits. Laterally extensive interbedded Tb and Tc sandstone and Te siltstone lithofacies with low-angle dips and little variability on dipmeter logs are interpreted as distal channel-levee and overbank deposits.

These three depositional settings are important to distinguish, as each exhibits different fluid-flow behaviors in an analog reservoir. Comparison of the outcrops with typical subsurface data sets as used by petroleum geologists (logs, core, seismic reflection) has provided criteria for distinguishing subtle stratigraphic features that can influence production from a subsurface reservoir analog.

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