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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 87, No. 2 (February 2003), P. 313-334.

Copyright ©2003. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Salt structures and hydrocarbons in the Pricaspian basin

Yuri Volozh,1 Christopher Talbot,2 Alik Ismail-Zadeh3

1Institute of Geology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
2Institute of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
3International Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory & Mathematical Geophysics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; present address: Geophysikalisches Institut, Universitaet Karlsruhe, Hertzstr. 16, Karlsruhe 76187, Germany; email: [email protected]


Yuri Volozh was born in Ukraine in 1938. He graduated from Kazakh State University in Almaty in 1959 and received his Ph.D. (1971) and Sc.D. (1991), both in geology, from the USSR Academy of Sciences. Since 1991, he has been a research professor at the Institute of Geology, Russian Academy of Sciences. His research interests are in regional geology, salt tectonics, geodynamics, and seismostratigraphy.

Christopher Talbot was born in England in 1940. He graduated from Imperial College London in 1963 and received his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Leeds in 1967. Since 1984, he has been a professor of tectonics and geodynamics at the Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University. His research experience covers salt tectonics; analytical, analog, and numerical models of rock deformation processes; and problems of storage of radioactive waste in salt and crystalline rocks.

Alik Ismail-Zadeh was born in Azerbaijan in 1961. He graduated from Baku State University in 1983 and received his Ph.D. (1989) and Sc.D. (1997), both in geophysics, from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). Since 1998, he has been a research professor at RAS, Moscow. His research experience covers numerical and analytical modeling and data interpretation in studies of dynamics and structure of the lithosphere.


We are very grateful to N. Hurley, J. Lorenz, K. Swirydczuk, K. Wolgemuth, and an anonymous reviewer for their fruitful comments. We are particularly indebted to W. Devlin for his remarkably detailed and constructive review. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (grant #1325), Russian Foundation for Basic Research (grant #97-05-65415), and International Science and Technology Center (grant #1293) supported this research.


Pricaspian basin geology is reviewed in the light of 500,000 km of seismic profiles and several thousand wells. We focus on how hydrocarbons from three sources accumulated in relation to the 1800 salt structures in a basin that changed little in planform from the Devonian to the Paleogene. Riphean to Carboniferous shelf sedimentary strata are still flat lying between a poorly known crystalline basement and a base of salt now 10 km deep. Slow and almost continuous sedimentation in the basin center downbuilt huge massifs in Permian salt initially 4.5 km thick. Basin sediments are flat lying or backtilted between down-to-basin growth faults along northern and western margins starved of sediments. By contrast, progradation of Permian sediments from the Urals, Triassic sediments from the South Emba shear zone, and Jurassic sediments from the Dombass-Tuarkyr fold belt downbuilt successive waves of salt structures basinward from margins in the east, southeast and then the south. A zone of salt overhangs records extrusion that starved basin-marginal salt structures, particularly during a basinwide hiatus in the Early Jurassic. Salt diapirs along polygonal normal faults rooting to the crests of still-potent salt structures through Cretaceous–Paleogene strata indicate that salt upbuilt back to the surface and resumed downbuilding. Coarse clastic fans infill deep canyons incised across the basin by rivers draining to the Caspian in Pliocene times.

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