From Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin (
For more information, please contact the author.

AAPG Annual Convention, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, June 19–22, 2005

A Compressional Origin for Minibasins Near the Sigsbee
Escarpment, Gulf of Mexico

Michael R. Hudec, Martin Jackson, and Daniel D. Schultz-Ela


The conventional explanation for minibasin subsidence is that it is driven by gravity—that minibasins exist because their fill is dense enough to sink into the underlying evaporites, expelling salt into the adjacent salt highs. This explanation is valid if the average density of the sediments is greater than the density of the salt, but it cannot account for subsidence of thin, less dense clastic sequences into salt. Seismic data show that many minibasins started sinking into salt when their siliciclastic fill was much thinner than the 1.5–2 km thickness necessary for compaction to invert the density contrast. For such minibasins, some mechanism other than gravity must be involved. We investigated mechanisms of minibasin subsidence using a 3,600-km2 pre-stack depth-migrated 3D seismic dataset near the Sigsbee Scarp, northern Gulf of Mexico. This dataset covers 27 minibasins of varying size and thickness. These data indicate that minibasin initiation was synchronous with shortening, as indicated by the presence of thrust faults in the deeper parts of many minibasins. A compressional origin of minibasins is also consistent with finite-element models showing that laterally shortened minibasins will subside even if their fill is less dense than the salt. The specific cause of shortening that led to minibasin formation is currently unknown. The orientation of thrust structures is highly variable. Their pattern suggests that shortening was partitioned by flow boundaries defined at shallow levels within and above the salt sheet. If so, suprasalt processes may have been an important control.