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AAPG Bulletin, V. 86, No. 8 (August 2002),Copyright ©2002. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Control of syndepositional faulting on systems tract evolution across growth-faulted shelf margins: An analog experimental model of the Miocene Imo River field, Nigeria

Max W. I. M. van Heijst,1 George Postma,2 Wessel P. van Kesteren,3 Ruud G. de Jongh4

1Faculty of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80021, 3508 TA, Utrecht, Netherlands; current address: Directorate-General of Public Works and Water Management, Road and Hydraulic Engineering Division, P.O. Box 5044, 2600 GA, Delft, Netherlands; email: [email protected]
2Faculty of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80021, 3508 TA, Utrecht, Netherlands; email: [email protected]
3Faculty of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80021, 3508 TA, Utrecht, Netherlands; current address: Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij, P.O. Box 28000, 9400 HH, Assen, Netherlands; email: [email protected]
4Shell Production and Development Company-Eastern Division, Port Harcourt, Nigeria; current address: Shell International Gas, Shell Centre, York Road, SE1 7NA, London, United Kingdom; email: [email protected]


Max van Heijst graduated in geology from Utrecht University in 1996. Subsequently, he undertook a Ph.D. in analog modeling of river delta systems. The project was carried out at Utrecht University in scientific cooperation with Shell. Since autumn 2000, he has worked as a researcher and project manager at the Road and Hydraulic Engineering Division of the Directorate General of Public Works and Water Management, the Netherlands. His current projects involve geological prospecting of sand and gravel resources in the Dutch subsurface, including the Dutch sector of the North Sea.

George Postma obtained his Ph.D. in sedimentology at the University of Amsterdam in 1983. He held a lecturer position at the University of East Anglia until 1988, when he went to Utrecht University, where, in 2000, he was appointed associated professor. He has a wide research interest in sedimentology and basin research, following a holistic approach in source-sink studies that combines traditional field work with flume modeling studies.

Wessel van Kesteren received his M.Sc. degree from Utrecht University in 1999 after working on the fluvial responses in the experiment described in this article. He currently works at Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij as contract staff, mainly dealing with diagenetic impairment of gas reservoirs. His interests include turbidite systems and coastal development in tidal settings.

Ruud de Jongh graduated from Utrecht University in 1987, after which he joined Shell. He has worked in the Netherlands, Madagascar, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom. During his assignment in the Shell E&P Research and Technology Services group in Rijswijk he developed sequence-stratigraphic models for use in forward numerical modeling applications. During his stay in Nigeria he was the head of Shell Nigeria's onshore evaluation/exploration department. He currently works for Shell International Gas in liquid natural gas marketing.


This research was funded by Shell International Exploration and Production, Rijswijk, Netherlands, under contract wc/56809. We acknowledge the permission of the Nigerian Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and Shell Production and Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), operator on behalf of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) joint venture, to publish this article. We thank T. Cortis, W. C. Lee, L. D. Meckel, and K. Ladipo from Shell for their assistance with the seismic interpretation and their contributions to the project. At Utrecht University we acknowledge A. C. van der Gon Netcher, J. H. Bliek, P. Anten, and M. Reith for technical support. The article benefited from stimulating reviews by P. L. de Boer, X. D. Meijer, W. Nijman, W. Schlager, and AAPG reviewers K. McClay and W. Wade.


The presence of growth faults on shelf-margin deltas complicates the sequence-stratigraphic interpretation of deltaic successions. This article describes an analog modeling study of a growth-faulted shelf-margin delta. The aim of the project was to obtain a better understanding of the depositional architecture on a systems tract scale on both sides of the growth fault and to evaluate possible hydrocarbon-trapping configurations in such successions. The analog flume experiment incorporated the combined effect of growth faulting, regional subsidence, and eustasy on hanging-wall and footwall blocks. Experimental variables were based on seismic and well data of the Imo River field in the Niger Delta, which was used as a prototype to calibrate the experimental results. The spatial scale of the model, in conjunction with the supply rate, result in a time scaling that models basin-fill processes that operated over more than 5 m.y. in 90 hr of experiment. Digital topography scans, required for the determination of the bulk sediment transport, were made of the landscape at preset time intervals.

The resultant experimental sedimentary successions on both sides of the growth-faulted shelf margin were sliced and correlated across the fault. The results first were compared to the Imo River field prototype and subsequently to examples from the Gulf Coast and to extensional basin settings. These comparisons led to the formulation of a conceptual sequence model for growth-faulted margins that relates the systems tract distribution on each side of the fault to eustasy. The hanging-wall succession is composed of falling stage, lowstand, and early transgressive deposits. The footwall succession, in contrast, is characterized by late transgressive, incised valley-fill, and highstand deposits. The conceptual sequence model provides useful analogs for common and several alternative hydrocarbon-trapping configurations in growth-faulted settings.

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