SALT TECTONICS AND BASIN EVOLUTION:
Many of the worlds prolific hydrocarbon provinces lie in structurally complex passive margin salt basins and many major deepwater fields in these basins are heavily influenced by salt structures. The evolution of these features exerts tremendous influence on the structural geometry of overburden units and the consequent compartmentalization of prospects, the depositional paleobathymetry, and the resultant distribution of lithofacies, which directly drives field developmental planning (i.e. location and number of wells). Additionally, because viscous salt flow rates can result in strain rates much higher than those observed in most geologic systems, salt flow can impact rate-dependent processes such as salt-sediment loading rates, sediment dewatering, and advectionary heat transport, thus allowing salt tectonics to substantially impact pore pressure, basin thermal evolution, and thermal maturation processes. Despite this, many first-order components of salt evolution remain poorly understood, and as result, evolutionary models for many of these fields may yield a high degree of variability.
The weak behavior of viscous salt at temperature conditions observed in sedimentary basins yields a deformational style that is unique with respect to other upper crustal systems. Despite this, our understanding of salt mechanisms remains incomplete. Much of our current understanding of salt tectonics is derived from physical analogue modeling, a method which cannot consider critical components such as realistic buoyancy scaling, sediment compaction behavior, and changes in salt viscosity due to thermal-advectionary effects. In the UK Structure and Geodynamics Group, we are developing coupled thermo-mechanical numerical models at a range of length scales to constrain the influence of governing parameters in salt dynamics.