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Depositional Evolution of the Gulf of Mexico Sedimentary Basin
John W. Snedden, PhD

INSTRUCTOR: John W. Snedden, PhD
DISCIPLINE: Geoscience
COURSE LENGTH: 3 Days (Classroom) / 10 Two-Hour Sessions (Live Online)
CEUS: 2.4
AVAILABILITY: Public, In-House, & Live Online

SAMPLE TOPIC FROM THE CLASS: "Geology and Exploration Trends in the Gulf of Mexico 'Superbasin' US and Mexico"

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: This course has been designed for working geoscientists who wish to develop a thorough understanding of the Gulf of Mexico tectonostratigraphic history, supporting regional and prospect evaluation. Covers basin history and current exploration in the US and Mexico, Mesozoic and Cenozoic.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: The Gulf of Mexico’s stratigraphic and structural history underlies and supports one of the world’s richest petroleum basins. Learn about the depositional evolution of the Gulf from rift to divergent margin. This exciting introduction to the basin includes:

  • The interplay of sandstones and carbonates from Mesozoic to Cenozoic
  • Progressive depositional change from Jurassic aeolian systems to Pleistocene abyssal plain submarine fans
  • Overprint of multiple tectonostratigraphic events
  • Shifting source terrain input, from Appalachians to Quachita to Laramide, Chiapas
  • Oil and gas source rock families from USA and Mexico
  • Existing and new emerging plays, dry holes and discoveries
  • Suprasalt to sub-salt, Pre-salt to Pleistocene
  • Key basin events: Pre-salt rifting, The KPg large-scale impact, PETM, Chiapanecan orogeny

The course is based upon and uses the comprehensive new book by the instructor, The Gulf of Mexico Sedimentary Basin: Depositional Evolution and Petroleum Applications (Cambridge University Press, 2019). This course provides participants with a thorough, hands-on understanding of this prolific Super Basin, covering the US, Mexico and Cuba. Lectures and course notes are superbly illustrated with seismic and well log sections, and paleogeographic maps of key Cenozoic and Mesozoic intervals. Course includes eleven hours of exercises for participants to apply and test their new knowledge.


  • Perform analysis of structurally complex stratigraphic sections from onshore to offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM), identifying faults and likely detachment surfaces (salt bodies and welds).
  • Discriminate between shelfal, slope, and deepwater reservoirs from seismic character, position on depositional profile, and paleogeographic location.
  • Carry-out well log correlations at basin scale to identify key depositional fairways for deepwater systems and use log motifs to differentiate distributive fan from poorly organized slope and abyssal plain aprons.
  • Review continental scale drainage maps to identify sand-prone pathways and role of key long-lived structural entities in source-to-sink reconstructions.
  • Recognize major tectonic and depositional episodes in the GOM, as defined by seismic and well log anomalies.
  • Identify and assess discrete intervals of organic enrichment that are required for source rocks and shale reservoir plays.
  • Evaluate the quality and diversity of established, emerging, and frontier exploration plays ranging from Pre-salt to Plio-Pleistocene in both USA and Mexico.


Introduction: Tectonic and Stratigraphic Framework

  • General Setting
  • Structural Framework
  • Structural Domains
  • Basin-Scale Cross-Sections
  • Temporal Reconstruction of Central GoM
  • Tectonostratigraphy, Chronostratigraphy, and Depositional Systems
  • Tectonostratigraphic Framework
  • Stratigraphic Terminology
  • Mesozoic Chronostratigraphy, Northern GoM
  • Depositional Systems Classification
  • Database

Exercise: Seismic interpretation of the Gulf of Mexico structural margin. Correlate from onshore to deep offshore basin, crossing multiple depositional margins, growth fault zones, carbonate margins and slope Understand how to use seismic character, within calibrated, well-defined intervals to discriminate sand-prone intervals versus shale-prone sections. Compare to basin-scale paleo-geography.

Post-Orogenic Successor Basin-Fill and Rifting Phase

  • Basin and Continental Framework
  • Plate Tectonic Reconstructions since 240 Ma
  • Tectonostratigraphic Models for Basin Precursor History
  • Pre-salt (Eagle Mills) Sediment Routing

Middle Mesozoic Drift and Cooling Phase

  • Basin and Continental Framework
  • Louann Salt Supersequence
  • Louann Salt Supersequence Paleogeographic Reconstruction
  • Louann Salt Seismic Facies
  • Smackover – Norphlet Supersequence
  • Restoration for Raft Tectonics
  • Norphlet Deposystems: A Look into Ancient Dryland Deposition
  • Norphlet Paleogeographic Reconstruction and Paleo-wind Interpretation
  • Smackover Paleogeographic Reconstruction
  • Haynesville – Buckner Supersequence
  • Cotton Valley – Bossier Supersequence
  • Cotton Valley – Knowles Supersequence

Exercise: Use of biostratigraphy and CDS (Chronostratigraphic Designation System) in deepwater Gulf of Mexico Use well-based biostratigraphy and CDS to calculate average sedimentation rates. Match calculated sedimentation rates and age/depth trends to the most likely structural geometry.

Late Mesozoic Local Tectonic and Crustal Heating Phase

  • Basin and Continental Framework
  • Sligo – Hosston Supersequence
  • Provenance of the Hosston Sequence Set
  • Sligo Sequence Set Paleogeographic Map Reconstruction
  • Bexar – Pine Island Supersequence
  • Rodessa Supersequence
  • The Glen Rose Supersequence
  • Paluxy – Washita Supersequence
  • Summary of Post-Oxfordian Mesozoic Deposition
  • Eagle Ford – Tuscaloosa Supersequence
  • Austin Chalk Supersequence
  • Navarro – Taylor Supersequence
  • Cretaceous – Paleogene (K– Pg) Boundary Unit
  • The Chicxulub Impact Event: A History of Scientific Research
  • Observations of the K–Pg Boundary Deposit around the GoM
  • K–Pg Boundary Deposit in Mexico
  • Middle and Late Mesozoic Summary

Exercise: Recognition of unconventional plays from well logs Correlate logs and create cross-sections of Tuscaloosa Marine Shale Key Parameters justifying entry into specific shale plays ID key TOC-enriched intervals from delta LogR plots. Understand how local paleogeography enhances shale reservoirs’ prospectivity. Compare to global distribution of discrete organic enrichment events.

Cenozoic Depositional History 1: Paleogene Laramide Phase

  • Cenozoic Basin Framework and Tectonostratigraphic Phases
  • Middle Paleocene Lower Wilcox Deposode
  • Late Paleocene Middle Wilcox Supersequence
  • Early Eocene Upper Wilcox Deposode
  • Wilcox Paleoceanography
  • Middle Eocene Queen City and Sparta Deposodes
  • Summary: Laramide Compressional Phase

Exercise: Correlate from Wilcox supersequences in outboard areas of northern GoM, using key tops to constrain the gross stratigraphy, and then attempt to correlate at a finer scale, e.g. major shales, the Whopper sand, etc.). Log cross section covers about 500 miles from west to east, across the major Paleogene depositional fairway of the Gulf of Mexico. Wells penetrate the Paleogene in very different structural regimes, ranging from the Perdido fold belt to the Atwater Valley fold belt.

Cenozoic Depositional History 2: Middle Cenozoic Geothermal Phase

  • Late Eocene Yegua and Jackson Deposodes
  • Oligocene Frio Deposode
  • Growth Faults and Interdeltaic Depositional Systems Tracts
  • Early Miocene LM1 and LM2 Deposodes
  • Structural Evolution
  • Summary: Middle Cenozoic Phase

Cenozoic Depositional History 3: Neogene Tectono-climatic Phase

  • Basin and Continental Framework
  • Middle Miocene Deposode
  • Late Miocene Supersequence
  • Pliocene Deposodes
  • Pleistocene Supersequence
  • Structural Evolution
  • Northern Gulf: Burgos Basin
  • Tampico – Misantla Margin
  • Summary: Neogene Tectono-climatic Phase

Cenozoic Depositional Synthesis

  • Evolving Drainage Basins and Depocenters and Reconstructions

GoM Petroleum Habitat

  • Gulf of Mexico Undiscovered Resources and Synopsis of Current GoM Exploration Plays
  • Pre-salt Petroleum Habitat
  • Smackover– Norphlet Supersequence
  • Oxfordian Source Rocks
  • Haynesville – Buckner Supersequence
  • Cotton Valley – Bossier Supersequence
  • Jurassic Petroleum Systems and Source Rocks
  • Δ (Delta) Log R Technique
  • Cotton Valley – Knowles Supersequence
  • Sligo – Hosston Supersequence
  • Bexar – Pine Island Supersequence
  • Rodessa Supersequence
  • Glen Rose Supersequence
  • Paluxy – Washita Supersequence
  • Eagle Ford– Tuscaloosa Supersequence incl. Eagle Ford and Tuscaloosa Marine Shale Source Rocks
  • Austin Chalk Supersequence
  • Navarro – Taylor Supersequence
  • KPg Boundary Deposits
  • Implications for Mesozoic Exploration
  • Synopsis of Cenozoic Petroleum Habitat
  • Wilcox Supersequences
  • Potential Play Wilcox Play Expansion
  • Petroleum Plays of the Middle Cenozoic Geothermal Phase Supersequences
  • Yegua and Jackson Supersequences
  • Frio Supersequence
  • Lower Miocene Supersequences
  • Petroleum Plays of the Neogene Tectono-climatic Phase Supersequences
  • Middle and Upper Miocene Supersequences
  • Plio – Pleistocene Supersequences
  • Impacts of Large Mass Transport Complexes on Petroleum Systems
  • Implications for Cenozoic Exploration
  • Seismic Technology Evolution in the GoM

Exercise: Subsalt exploration and mapping in the Green Canyon area and the inboard subsalt Miocene play. Some discoveries have been made at Tahiti, (2002); Pony (2006); Heidelberg (2009), and Hopkins (2015). Goal of this exercise is to create sand-bearing thickness fairway maps for the Upper, Middle, and Lower Miocene intervals using a combination of well and seismic data but also factoring in obstacles and the zones of accommodation potential created by salt tectonics.