High-resolution carbon isotope signatures were integrated with core descriptions and gamma-ray logs and used as a correlation tool for better age control to refine the sequence-stratigraphic framework of the Shu’aiba Formation in Saudi Arabia. The carbon isotope variations of the shallow carbonate Shu’aiba Formation correlate well with the Tethyan pelagic record and indicate an original marine signature for the Lower Cretaceous (Aptian) Shu’aiba Formation. Carbon isotope values of the Shu’aiba Formation range from 1.5‰ to 6‰ with minimal or no diagenetic effects. Oxygen isotope values range from −2.7‰ to −6.7‰ but were reset during diagenesis and cannot be applied for chemostratigraphic analysis. The Shu’aiba strontium isotope records range from 0.707356 to 0.707454 and differ slightly from the standard Aptian record because of diagenesis.
The Shu’aiba Formation platform is a large-scale composite sequence (∼7 m.y.) composed of seven lower Aptian high-frequency sequences and two additional upper Aptian prograding sequences. Carbon isotope data were calibrated with core descriptions and gamma-ray logs to construct two detailed high-resolution stratigraphic cross sections. Carbon isotope data help refine the internal stratigraphic architecture of the Shu’aiba Formation especially on the slope and open-marine settings across the lower to upper Aptian boundary. The carbon isotope values of the Hawar “dense” unit in the base of the Shu’aiba Formation record major depletion corresponding to the global dissociation of methane hydrates, followed by major positive excursion associated with the deposition of Lithocodium and Bacinella facies coeval with the global oceanic anoxic event 1a. The rudist buildups on the platform have a value of approximately 4.5‰ at their base in most wells with a general uniform carbon isotope trend, followed by a gradual depletion to the top of the Shu’aiba Formation. Although some variations are observed in carbon isotope values associated with the lateral facies change from lagoon, margin, slope, open-marine, and basinal settings, carbon isotope trends are still similar and can be correlated fieldwide. Little evidence exists of meteoric diagenesis associated with the depletion of carbon isotope values. However, oxygen isotope records were possibly affected by meteoric diagenesis associated with subaerial exposure surfaces but did not get affected by the late Aptian hiatus, despite the massive karstification observed in cores. The good correlation between the original carbon isotope fluctuations and the third-order sequence framework of the Shu’aiba Formation fits well with the established carbon isotope curves that have been used as a proxy for global sea level changes during the Early Cretaceous. This study also shows that small-scale parasequences (fifth-order or higher) can be calibrated with carbon isotope curves, but they most likely represent relative sea level changes with local effects instead of global signatures. Application of high-resolution carbon isotope stratigraphy for the Shu’aiba Formation significantly constrain the stratigraphic framework and will lead to better geologic and simulation models for reservoir characterization and development.