Understanding large-scale sediment distribution patterns and morphological characteristics in subsurface sedimentary systems is highly challenging and generally requires regional seismic and well coverage. Here, we test a method that aims to predict first-order morphological characteristics and type of sedimentary transport system in ancient source-to-sink systems based on trends observed in submodern (Pliocene–Holocene) depositional environments. An example from the Paleocene Ormen Lange system (Møre Basin, Norwegian Sea) demonstrates the application of the method, and several descriptive parameters are estimated for this ancient subsurface system. In the Ormen Lange system, basin-floor fan and distal-slope parameters are well constrained from seismic and well control. However, knowledge of the morphology and relationships between upper slope, shelf, and catchment characteristics and their relationships to deep-water systems is poor, and these are the parameters that are discussed in this study.

Estimated parameters of catchment size derived from this technique are in good agreement with preserved remnants of fluvial valleys located onshore. Predicted sediment transport characteristics are also comparable to the depositional mechanisms interpreted from cores and well logs, suggesting a small tectonically active system with high fluvial discharge and low sediment storage potential in the catchment and shelf subenvironments.

The discussed method is thus capable of predicting first-order segment characteristics in subsurface sedimentary systems with an uncertainty of one to two orders of magnitude. This information can be used to increase the understanding of unexplored basins or to add data and uncertainty ranges to well-known petroleum systems.

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