Interpreting water depth from benthic foram species and assemblages

Paleontologists (especially micropaleontologists specializing in foraminifera) are often asked how we can interpret water depth from benthic foram species and assemblages. In short, “Benthic foraminifera are environmentally controlled ‘facies fossils’ and their tops frequently coincide with abrupt environmental (and sometimes lithological) changes associated with facies changes.” (Lowman, 1949 pp. 1975-1983). This allows paleontologists to link certain benthic foram species to certain facies that are, in turn, linked to a depositional regime with inferred water depths based on those facies.

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Furthermore, this principle allowed the construction of paleo bathymetric zonations and paleobathymetric maps, based on benthic foraminifera species that would indicate water depth at the time of deposition by indicating a facies/depositional change. One of the earliest examples is Crouch (1955); however, many others were developed including Phleger (1960), Alberts (1972), Poag (1981), and Murray (2006). Each of these had a local or semi-regional focus; however, Murray (2006) represents a global synthesis (Martin 2013). These “zones” indicating water depth become associated with facies changes (i.e. sand types, shale) and would come to be used as key paleobathymetric indicators. Overtime these zones, Paleo-Data, Inc.’s Zone 4, for example, indicates an Upper Slope (Upper bathyal) environment that indicates water depths from 600’-1500’. This zone can be associated with thick, high-quality sands, and can be targeted as a ‘sweet spot’ for excellent reservoirs.

Paleobathymetric Map

Paleobathymetric map for map sequence 19, 11.77 Ma-13.53 Ma (2019 Paleo-Data, Inc. Chart)

Benthic foraminifera that indicates changing bathymetries is used to produce paleobathymetric maps (see GoM Deposystems on this page for more info) that give users a visual look of how shelf and slope positions have changed throughout time. These maps are great tools for those trying to decide the best geographical placement for a wellbore when targeting a specific depositional regime from a specific geological time period.

Sawtooth Curves

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Paleo Data Inc. is an employee-owned, full-service biostratigraphy consultancy working primarily in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Coast, with additional international experience. Paleo Data Inc. maintains and updates substantial databases which utilize a consistent and proven biostratigraphic framework for optimal uniformity and accuracy in stratigraphic correlation. PetroStrat is a leading and global provider of integrated geoscience services, delivering best-in-class subsurface solutions to the energy industry, enabling customers to make informed strategic, operational and commercial decisions. They bring together the data, analytical services, and world-leading expertise under one roof, delivering agile, flexible, innovative, cost-effective, and HSE-conscious solutions, to de-risk exploration and development targets and reduce asset uncertainty. The team, in partnership with their clients, has worked on some of the biggest oil and gas discoveries in the world and has a proven track record in delivering significant returns on investment for a range of clients from service companies and small independents, to super majors and state oil companies. PetroStrat’s headquarters and main laboratories are in Conwy, North Wales, with offices in St. Albans (UK) and Northwich (UK), Houston (USA), Calgary (Canada), and facilities through joint ventures and collaborative agreements in Trinidad, Kuala Lumpur, and Mexico. Clients include many of the world’s international and national oil companies.