The strike-slip fault systems in the central Tarim Basin, China, afford an exceptional opportunity to document the structural characteristics and evolution process of small displacement intracratonic strike-slip faults using three-dimensional seismic reflection data. These strike-slip faults display subvertical segments at depth and en echelon normal fault zones where relatively shallow. Fault segmentation and flower structures can be commonly observed in plan view and cross-section view, respectively.

Consistent with the notion that segment coalescence is the fundamental process for fault evolution, the mean segment length of representative strike-slip faults examined in this study is positively correlated to the measured fault offset. The width of the en echelon normal fault zone is positively correlated with the estimated maximum overburden thickness. The integrated data sets suggest that the evolution of the conjugate fault array followed a sequential evolution process instead of forming simultaneously. The switch in slip direction of the master fault of the conjugate fault array is attributed to the change of stress orientation. Regarding individual strike-slip faults, increase in displacement induces the formation of faults with lower fault-array angles linking initially formed en echelon normal faults. In cross sections, throughgoing fault surfaces can also form, connecting the lower subvertical fault segment and the upper en echelon normal faults.

The presented data sets and evolution models established in this study can be used as tools to better predict the structural attributes of subsurface strike-slip fault systems with important consequences for reservoir formation and hydrocarbon accumulation in the Tarim Basin in particular, and in ancient marine basins in general.

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