Abstract

Radiogenic heat production within the sedimentary section of the Gulf of Mexico basin is a significant source of heat. Radiogenic heat should be included in thermal models of this basin (and perhaps other sedimentary basins). We calculate that radiogenic heat may contribute up to 26% of the overall surface heat-flow density for an area in south Texas. Based on measurements of the radioactive decay rate of a-particles, potassium concentration, and bulk density, we calculate radiogenic heat production for Stuart City (Lower Cretaceous) limestones, Wilcox (Eocene) sandstones and mudrocks, and Frio (Oligocene) sandstones and mudrocks from south Texas. Heat production rates range from a low of 0.07+ or -0.01 mu W/m 3 in clean Stuart City limestones to 2.21+ or -0.24 mu W/m 3 in Frio mudrocks. Mean heat production rates for Wilcox sandstones, Frio sandstones, Wilcox mudrocks, and Frio mudrocks are 0.88, 1.19, 1.50, and 1.72 mu W/m 3 , respectively. In general, the mudrocks produce about 30-40% more heat than stratigraphically equivalent sandstones. Frio rocks produce about 15% more heat than Wilcox rocks per unit volume of clastic rock (sandstone/mudrock). A one-dimensional heat-conduction model indicates that this radiogenic heat source has a significant effect on subsurface temperatures. If a thermal model were calibrated to observed temperatures by optimizing basal heat-flow density and ignoring sediment heat production, the extrapolated present-day temperature of a deeply buried source rock would be overestimated.

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