AGU advocacy for science



The Gulf Coast province provides an array of scientific dilemmas ranging from the origin of the gulf itself to the causes and effects of long-lasting circulation of hot, deep waters throughout the thick sedimentary section. The nature of the underlying crust and superjacent sediments and their contained waters; the precise timing of rifting; depositional history and diagenesis of the sedimentary sequence; fluid dynamics; geochemistry; hydrocarbon generation and migration; thermal history, including unusually high thermal gradient; and the fluid pressure regime in the deep sedimentary section are too poorly understood to permit quantitative analysis of processes that are of enormous scientific and practical importance. The area centered on DeWitt and Victoria counties, Texas, on the southeastern extension of the San Marcos arch, is probably the best location for a deep borehole to investigate these important phenomena and problems. The arch extends southeastward from exposed Grenville-age basement rocks of the Llano uplift and separates the deep South Texas and Houston embayment salt basins. Seaward of the Llano uplift, highly deformed and slightly metamorphosed rocks of the Ouachita-Marathon orogen have been intersected beneath Cretaceous sediments. The inferred edge of continental crust underlies an extensive Lower Cretaceous reef trend southeast of known Ouachita orogen rocks. Rapid thickening of Tertiary and possibly of Cretaceous sediments southeast of the shelf edge, together with geophysical indications of a relatively shallow Moho, suggests that “transitional continental crust” underlies sediments basinward of the inferred edge of continental crust. This transitional crust, the ultimate objective for a proposed deep well, could be rifted Grenville basement, buried rocks of the Ouachita trend, an island arc related to the Ouachita trend, or exotic continental basement related to a proto-South American continent. To achieve optimum results to guarantee adequate basement penetration, a borehole should be designed to penetrate a relatively thin succession of lower Mesozoic synrift, graben-fill sediments seaward of the shelf edge. Because of expected high temperatures and pressures, new technologies will need to be developed to successfully drill and test the well.