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Yang, Fengli, Dengliang Gao, Zhuan Sun, Zuyi Zhou, Zhe Wu, and Qianyu Li, 2012, The evolution of the South China Sea Basin in the Mesozoic - Cenozoic and its significance for oil and gas exploration: A review and overview, in D. Gao, ed., Tectonics and sedimentation: Implications for petroleum systems: AAPG Memoir 100, p. 397-418.


Copyright copy2012. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

The Evolution of the South China Sea Basin in the Mesozoic–Cenozoic and Its Significance for Oil and Gas Exploration: A Review and Overview

Fengli Yang,1 Dengliang Gao,2 Zhuan Sun,3 Zuyi Zhou,4 Zhe Wu,5 Qianyu Li6

1School of Ocean and Earth Science, Tongji University, 1239 Siping Rd. Shanghai, 200092, China (e-mails: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected])
2Department of Geology and Geography, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, 98 Beechurst Ave. Morgantown, West Virginia, 26506, U.S.A. (e-mail: [email protected])
3School of Ocean and Earth Science, Tongji University, 1239 Siping Rd. Shanghai, 200092, China
4School of Ocean and Earth Science, Tongji University, 1239 Siping Rd. Shanghai, 200092, China
5School of Ocean and Earth Science, Tongji University, 1239 Siping Rd. Shanghai, 200092, China
6State Key Laboratory of Marine Geology, Tongji University, Shanghai, People's Republic of China (e-mail: [email protected])


This study was supported by the 863 China National High-Tech Research and Development Key Projects (2006AA09A101) and by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40631007 and 41076017). We thank Yuchang Zhang in Wuxi Research Institute of Petroleum Geology of SINOPEC (China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation) China, for his comments and suggestions, and Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey in China, for providing the South China Sea data. We also thank Paul Reemst and Taizhong Duan for their constructive peer reviews. Colin P. North served as the guest editor for this chapter. We thank Harry Droust and Christopher Morley for providing additional peer reviews that helped further improve the quality of the chapter.


The greater South China Sea (SCS) Basin is composed of basins of different generations and styles. These polyhistory basins formed in complicated geologic settings and evolved through different tectonic regimes. Based on a classical basin classification scheme and data from previous studies, we summarize the evolution of tectonic environments of the SCS in the Mesozoic–Cenozoic into a Late Triassic–middle Eocene divergent-convergent cycle and a late Eocene–present divergent-convergent cycle. The two cycles are in turn composed of four evolutionary phases, which are (1) Late Triassic–Middle Jurassic divergent continental margin setting, (2) Late Jurassic–middle Eocene convergent intracontinental setting, (3) late Eocene–Miocene divergent continental margin setting, and (4) Pliocene–present convergent continental margin setting. We identify temporal sequence and spatial distribution of major polyhistory basins in the SCS associated with the four basin evolutionary phases in the two tectonic cycles. Each basin corresponds to a specific pressure, space, and temperature, and overprinting of the basin caused changes in pressure, space, and temperature with time. Unraveling this complex and dynamic nature of the polyhistory basins can be instrumental in assessing the hydrocarbon potential and exploration risk in the SCS.

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