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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 87, No. 12 (December 2003), P. 1869-1882.

Copyright copy2003. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Depositional remnants, part 1: Common components of the stratigraphic record with important implications for hydrocarbon exploration and production

Randi S. Martinsen

Institute for Energy Research, Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071-3006; [email protected]


Randi Martinsen is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming. Previously, she worked for Cities Service Company, Denver, Colorado, and as a consulting petroleum geologist. She has worked extensively on the Western Interior Cretaceous basin and is particularly interested in stratigraphic trap exploration, paleotectonic influences on depositional systems, and clastic reservoir characterization.


Many individuals contributed to this analysis by sharing their experience and knowledge. The manuscript benefited greatly from feedback provided by Jeff Crabaugh, Robbie Gries, Gus Gustason, Ron Steel, Rod Tillman, and Bob Weimer. I also appreciate the careful and constructive criticism and comments of AAPG Editor John Lorenz and reviewers Janok Bhattacharya, Jack Thomas, Kathy Bergman, Rick Erickson, and an anonymous reviewer. I am most grateful for the love and support of my husband, Jim Steidtmann, and for his editorial and scientific perspicacity.


The preservation of sedimentary strata below erosion surfaces can be highly variable laterally, and commonly only small remnants of originally more extensive deposits remain. The concept of remnants is not new, but their abundance and the fact that they commonly develop below low-relief erosion surfaces, as well as below those that incise deeply, may not be fully appreciated. Spatial variations in accommodation because of paleotopography, synsedimentary and penecontemporaneous tectonics, and differential compaction occur on a variety of scales in all depositional settings. In low-accommodation and shallow-shelf settings, spatial variations in accommodation commonly result in the formation of remnants ranging in size from small (few to tens of square kilometers) to basin scale (hundreds of square kilometers). Remnants of porous and permeable facies encased in low-permeability facies are an important and relatively common type of stratigraphic trap. Conceptual models for three scales of depositional remnants are used to illustrate their significance to petroleum exploration and production.

The recognition of these deposits, herein referred to as "depositional remnants," is commonly critical to depositional systems analysis because stratigraphic terminations caused by erosional truncation must be interpreted differently from those caused by lithofacies change. In addition, the preserved geometry of remnants can be quite different from the geometry of the original deposit, and because geometry is heavily relied upon in interpretations of ancient depositional systems, interpreting a preserved geometry as a depositional geometry can result in significant misunderstandings. Depositional remnants are common in the stratigraphic record and represent an important concept to open up new hydrocarbon plays in mature basins.

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