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Arctic Alaska’s Lower Cretaceous (Hauterivian and Barremian) mudstone succession—Linking lithofacies, texture, and geochemistry to marine processes

October 13, 2015

We present new images and descriptions of the lithofacies and organic facies of the pebble shale unit and lower part of the Hue Shale (Lower Cretaceous) of Arctic Alaska at a high magnification that illustrates their textural characteristics. Our aims were to describe and determine the distribution of facies in these petroleum source rocks and to identify the processes that formed them. We sampled at high-resolution and applied new petrographic techniques combined with scanning electron microscopy and geochemical analyses to samples collected from three widely spaced sections—located in exposures along the Canning River and continuous core from the Mikkelsen Bay State 1 and Orion 1 wells.

Results from these three locations indicate that this succession consists primarily of clay-rich mudstones that are variously silt- or sand-bearing and clay-dominated mudstones that exhibit mainly relict, 2–5 millimeter thick bedding and common but variable microbioturbation, rare macrobioturbation, and common fabrics of pelleted clay and silt. These mudstones contain rare, poorly sorted, silt-rich basal laminae that are often discontinuous and have wavy, sharp bases and crude upward fining. In addition, mud-supported, outsized clasts (dropstones) of fine sand to pebble size are present throughout the succession as isolated clasts or in clusters. We interpret these textures and much of this succession to result from intermittent deposition by suspension settling from melting seasonal sea ice—sometimes sediment-laden—and associated primary productivity. Overall, this mudstone succession fines and deepens upward from the pebble shale unit into the Hue Shale. In the Hue Shale of the Orion well, however, different processes intermittently deposited thin, discrete intervals of coarser sediment that probably represent deposition from density currents. Also in the Hue Shale of the Orion well, several thicker sandstone and silt-dominated mudstone units with discordant, scoured bases and cut and fill structures represent erosion during higher energy events such as major storms.

Other lithofacies within the succession are graded tuffs/bentonites and tuffaceous/bentonitic mudstones from episodic volcanic ash falls; these are abundant in the Hue Shale, and very rare in the pebble shale unit of the two wells. Organic-carbon rich strata associated with volcanic ash intervals of the pebble shale unit and Hue Shale in the Mikkelsen 1 well have some of the best petroleum source rock potential determined for this succession. Authigenic pyrite and carbonate-cement-dominated mudstone are also present in both units of all three sections. The carbonate-cemented units indicate breaks in sedimentation and are common in the Hue Shale and in sections of the pebble shale unit interpreted to be more distal, such as along the Canning River.

Our results document the variation in facies and textures of the Hauterivian and Barremian Lower Cretaceous mudstone succession of Arctic Alaska. Comparison of these characteristics to the products of modern processes on the North Slope of Alaska, in the Beaufort Sea, and elsewhere suggest that this succession formed primarily from depositional processes related to seasonal sea ice with intermittent fluvial-sourced sediment deposited by density currents and episodic erosion and reworking by storms and other currents.

Publication Year 2015
Title Arctic Alaska’s Lower Cretaceous (Hauterivian and Barremian) mudstone succession—Linking lithofacies, texture, and geochemistry to marine processes
DOI 10.3133/pp1814B
Authors Margaret A. Keller, Joe H.S. Macquaker
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1814
Index ID pp1814B
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center