Events that influenced the Santos Basin were different from the Campos Basin to the north (where the bulk of the petroleum reserves in Brazil have been discovered) and resulted in a very different stratigraphy. Because of these differences, the Campos Basin stratigraphic model is poorly suited to the Santos Basin (cf. Cobbold et al., 2001).

We divide the postrift stratigraphy of the deep-water Santos Basin into 11 major sequences, each representing an average duration of approximately 11 m.y. and encompassing the middle–Late Cretaceous and Tertiary. The complex fill history of the Santos Basin was strongly influenced by the uplift of the Serra do Mar coastal mountain ranges in the Late Cretaceous and the subsequent organization of the coast-parallel Paraiba do Sul drainage system. The ancestral Paraiba do Sul tended to focus clastic influx into the northern and central Santos Basin during the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene. Focused clastic influx forced massive shelf progradation and deep-water turbidite sedimentation despite globally high-standing sea level. The southern Santos Basin, at the same time, was relatively starved of clastic influx, and drowned shelf conditions prevailed.

These depositional patterns persisted until the Oligocene, when the Paraiba do Sul was captured and diverted into the Campos Basin to the north into which it currently empties. After the capture and diversion of the Paraiba do Sul, the north-central Santos Shelf was starved and drowned, and the shelf edge backstepped more than 50 km (30 mi). The southern Santos Basin, in contrast, was buried by a thick sequence of mud-prone upper Oligocene and Neogene sediments that had a great impact on source rock maturity.

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