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

High-resolution sequence stratigraphy in Tertiary carbonate-rich sections by thin-sectioned well cuttings

Brian P. Coffey,1 J. Fred Read2

1Department of Geological Sciences, 4044 Derring Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061-0420; current address: ExxonMobil Exploration Company, Houston, Texas; email: [email protected]
2Department of Geological Sciences, 4044 Derring Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061-0420; email: [email protected]


Brian P. Coffey received a B.S. degree in geology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995 and a Ph.D. in geology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1999. His research interests include variations in carbonate petrology and sequence stratigraphy between nontropical and warm water carbonate systems. Brian currently is employed as a geologist with ExxonMobil Exploration Company.

J. Fred Read received his Ph.D. at the University of Western Australia working under Brian W. Logan on the Shark Bay project and later did postdoctoral research on Devonian reefs of the Canning Basin, Western Australia. He has been at Virginia Tech since 1973 and is a full professor. His students have worked on evolution of passive carbonate margins and foreland basin successions; stratigraphic modeling; cyclostratigraphy; the stratigraphic signature of global ice house, transitional, and greenhouse conditions; regional calcite cementation; and dolomitization. He and his students have twice received the Outstanding Paper Award from the Journal of Sedimentary Research, and he was an AAPG Distinguished Lecturer, 1989-1990.


We thank the North Carolina Geologic Survey, U.S. Geological Survey, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for access to data. W. Burleigh Harris and Gerald Baum provided valuable insights on regional stratigraphy. Tim Bralower and Richard Laws identified calcareous nannofossils in key intervals. This research was supported by grants from the AAPG, the Society of Professional Well Log Analysts, the Geological Society of America, and Mobil.


Thin-sectioned well cuttings provide a low-cost yet widely available and underused source of subsurface data that can be used to generate high-resolution sequence stratigraphic frameworks in variably consolidated carbonate-prone units in basins that lack cores or high-quality suites of wire-line logs. Because of the shallow (<1 km) depths of many Cenozoic basins, there is limited downhole mixing of cuttings. Although these carbonate-prone basins are widespread globally, they generally have not been subject to analyses of high-resolution sequence stratigraphy because of the sparsity of outcrop and core data. We used plastic-impregnated thin sections of unwashed well cuttings from a Paleogene carbonate-prone succession from the coastal plain of North Carolina to define the stacking patterns of the facies in the subsurface. This data set, along with biostratigraphic, wire-line log, and seismic data, was used to generate the framework of regional, lithology-based sequence stratigraphy. Systems tracts were determined by correlating vertical changes in the percentages of rock types in the well cuttings. Sequence boundaries were picked beneath units having the maximum abundance of quartz sandstone cuttings; maximum flooding surfaces were picked beneath the units having the most abundant cuttings of deepest marine facies. Thus, despite some downhole mixing, thin-sectioned well cuttings can be used to generate lithology-based sequence stratigraphic frameworks for shallow, carbonate-prone sedimentary basins, which previously were inaccessible except by expensive deep-coring programs.

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