Abstract

The deep-water Niger Delta includes two large fold and thrust belts, products of contraction caused by gravity-driven extension on the shelf that exhibit complex styles of thrusting. These contractional structures formed above multiple detachment levels in the overpressured shales of the Akata Formation. Using the patterns of growth sedimentation, fold shapes, fault-plane seismic reflections, and combined conventional and shear fault-bend folding theories, we describe and model the structural styles and kinematics of the fault-related folds and imbricate thrust systems that compose these belts. Individual fault-related folds, involving both forethrusts and backthrusts, are characterized by long planar backlimbs that dip less than the associated fault ramps, with upward shallowing of dips in growth strata above the backlimbs suggesting components of progressive limb rotation. Forelimbs are short compared to backlimbs, but growth strata show more consistent dips that suggest a component of folding by kink-band migration. Thus, we employ a combination of classic and shear fault-bend fold theories to describe these structures, including the influence of a weak basal detachment zone in the overpressured shales. We expand upon these theories to model the kinematics of imbricate thrust systems, which display a complex history of thrusting related to spatial and temporal variations in deposition across the delta. Regional patterns of folded growth strata are used to define break-forward, break-backward, and coeval thrusting involving single and multiple detachment levels. We define two main types of imbricate thrust systems: type I system with a single basal detachment level and type II imbricate system with multiple basal detachment levels, which cause massive structural thickening of the Akata Formation and refolding of shallow thrust sheets. Through the sequential restoration of two regional cross sections across these systems, we resolve the structural styles, the timing and sequences of thrusting, as well as the regional amounts of shortening, all of which have important implications for hydrocarbon maturation and charge in the deep-water Niger Delta.

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