Gulf of Mexico-Cordillera Program (Current)

Integrated Tectonic, Geochronologic, and Sandstone Provenance Study Program in Mexico, Gulf of Mexico, and The Meso-American Cordillera

A 4-year industry-funded collaborative research consortium is underway by Tectonic Analysis and UNAM (Mexican University). Work began in early 2011 and will proceed through 2014, and covers the region from California to Ecuador.

A primary part of our program is to characterise the clastic erosional source areas around the Gulf of Mexico for understanding sediment deposition into the Gulf of Mexico. This concerns mainly Cenozoic sediments, when numerous erosional source areas became positive. Ongoing studies with colleagues in the USA have already indicated that the Eocene Wilcox "Whopper" sandstone contains detrital zircons of Cretaceous age: therefore, that sand originates from the west or northwest, and not from the Appalachians to the northeast. Fluvial systems in the Parras and La Popa basins in N Mexico have sources as far west as Sonora, with additional contributions from Mexican Grenville basement and the Nazas Arc. Similarly, the program will define the "fingerprints" of the onshore erosional source areas, including crystallization or metamorphic age, mineralogy, heavy mineral, and other "high-tech" geochemical tracers. It will also define the timing and rate of tectonic uplift, providing us with the time we should expect to see that sediment component in the Gulf of Mexico.

The two primary objectives are to:

  • Refine the region's tectonic and paleogeographic history from the Permian to the Present, and
  • characterize the sedimentary fill history of the southern Gulf of Mexico and surrounding basins, as a function of regional tectonic evolution. We are fingerprinting potential source areas onshore, and correlating those fingerprints to the offshore by both predictive paleogeography and also via direct comparison with the analysis of borehole cuttings provided by Pemex.

The research team comprises Dr. James Pindell, Dr. Uwe Martens, Dr. Diego Villagomez, Dr. Roberto Molina, Dr. Luigi Solari, Dr. Bodo Weber, and several others as needed, and brings

  • Access to the Mexican and Colombian thesis collections (and translation of key parts),
  • A University mechanism for data provision from governments and state companies,
  • First-rate geochronology, documentation of uplift history, and database building, and
  • A field crew of local workers who are comfortable with the current security situation.
  • The Gulf of Mexico-Cordilleran Program is currently supported by the following companies:

    Additional companies are always welcome. For further information, please contact James Pindell.

    Among the things we are assessing to refine the region's tectonic and paleogeographic history from the Permian to the Present are:

    • Refined Atlantic opening kinematics and improving the Pangean reconstruction;
    • Evolving the GoM to new levels of precision, including dating and cooling of 27 basement cores provided by Pemex.
    • Progressive closure between Guerrero Terrane with the eastern platform, and subsequent advance of the thrustfront.
    • Late K collision of the Greater Antilles Arc along southern Tehuantepec, Chiapas Massif, and northern Guatemala.
    • Late J-Early K opening, and Late K-Eocene shortening, of the Cuicateco Terrane;
    • Origin and Maastrichtian-Present migration history of Chortis Block along southern Mexico;
    • "Epierogenic" uplift of southern Mexico due to initiation of flat-slab subduction since 20-25 Ma;
    • "Chiapanecan" Orogeny in Chiapas Massif and Foldbelt, and neighbouring Guatemala;
    • Dating granitic magmatism along the Tehuantepec margin and Isthmus, to better understand arc history;
    • Seismic analysis of the offshore "Tehuantepec Terrane", to understand its role in the evolution of the Chiapas Massif;
    • Neotectonic assessment of southern Mexico and Central America by radar imagery, seismicity, and tomography.

    We recognize that the history and provenance of the sedimentary fill in the southern GoM will be important for future HC exploration. Efforts to address the second objective include:

    • Lithological fingerprinting of basement and Todos Santos source terranes around the GoM;
    • Thermochronologic dating of uplift around the southern GoM (Sierra Zongolica, Cuicateco/Juarez, Oaxaca, Acatl├ín, Chiapas Massif), allowing prediction of when various areas may have provided clastics;
    • Heavy mineral, DZ, and other geochemical fingerprinting analyses of units exposed along the southern GoM coastal plain, such as Chicontepec and the Tertiary of the Chiapas Foldbelt;
    • Heavy mineral, DZ, and other geochemical fingerprinting analyses of units deposited in the southern GoM, via cuttings provided by Pemex from five offshore wells, which can be correlated by interpretations of seismic lines provided by Pemex.
    • Analysis of Tertiary and neotectonic tectonic evolution with a view to understanding how provenance areas may have changed over time.
    Confidentiality and Non-Confidentiality:

    All material will be provided as developed to program sponsors. The program comprises academic efforts that must remain in the public realm; although, we can delay the publication of these. Much of the new dating efforts are among the non-confidential material.

    However, Tectonic Analysis will retain confidentiality on:

    • Database compilations.
    • Evolving tectonic and paleogeographic maps.
    • Aspects of hydrocarbon systems and generation.