ABSTRACT

The Alboran Sea in the Mediterranean is a back-arc basin developed during the Miocene by extensional collapse within an arc-shaped orogen. A major depocenter (>10 km [>6.2 mi]) is located to the west of the basin (West Alboran Basin [WAB]) and contains a diapiric province with overpressured shales and mud volcanoes. Seismic and well data are used to analyze the evolution of the shale structures in the northern margin of the WAB and to estimate the in situ stress tensor. Geomechanical modeling suggests a present-day normal faulting stress regime along the northern WAB, where the maximum horizontal stress is parallel to the coastline. Pore pressure shows a hydrostatic gradient down to 2000 m (6561 ft), where the top of the regional pore pressure ramp is located. Undercompaction is the dominant mechanism generating overpressures in sediments shallower than 5000 m (16,406 ft). At greater depths, thermal mechanisms impose an excess of pore pressure on the sediments feeding the diapirs. This framework is used to discuss the contribution of thermally generated pressures to the triggering of shale diapirism. Increasing thermal pressures in the deepest confined units cause tensile failure of the overburden and subsequently promote mud withdrawal and injection in the overburden. The magnitude of the overpressure conditions the vertical ascent of shale. The more mature structures reuse preexisting normal faults in their ascent toward shallower basin levels. Results provide insights into the current discussion about the triggering factors behind shale diapirism. They also help to explain the differences between shale structures and those shaped by salt tectonics.

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