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Book Chapter

Evaluation of the Heat Flow in the Southern Alps during Mesozoic Extension: Implications for Hydrocarbon Exploration in the Po Plain Foredeep

Paolo Scotti
Paolo Scotti
Eni S.p.A.–Exploration and Production Division, Via Emilia 1, 20097 San Donato Milanese, Milan, Italy e-mail:
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Roberto Fantoni
Roberto Fantoni
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January 01, 2012


We reconstructed the thermal history, and therefore the evolution of heat flow in the southern Alps region (northern Italy), using organic matter (OM) maturity data obtained from samples of sedimentary units outcropping along the entire mountain chain. Regional OM maturity patterns are largely controlled by a high geothermal gradient and differential burial during the Norian–Liassic extensional phase. Good results for thermal history calibrations from several locations were obtained using a large database of measured OM maturity, consisting of different maturity parameters, often all in agreement, for a wide range of lithostratigraphic sequences.

One-dimensional thermal modeling was applied to selected successions that were not overprinted by alpine evolution. Resulting heat-flow values were high and relatively uniform (85 to 105 mW/m2) throughout the southern Alps during the Lias–Early Dogger, and they progressively decreased after the Bajocian–Bathonian to values similar to the present-day heat flow (50 to 55 mW/m2) by the end of the Cretaceous. This heat-flow reconstruction is consistent with the known tectonic evolution of Mesozoic extension in the southern Alps, characterized by a rifting stage lasting to the Lias, followed by a drifting stage beginning in the Middle Jurassic.

Elevated heat flow in the southern Alps has important implications for hydrocarbon exploration. Upper Triassic source rocks in basinal successions attained high maturity during the Jurassic, and this is even more likely for the deeper Middle Triassic source rocks.

Improved definition of the heat-flow peak in the Jurassic helps to define the hydrocarbon charge risk associated with leads and prospects in the Po Plain subsurface, where traps formed in the Cenozoic. In areas characterized by little Rhaetian–Liassic burial, the source rocks retained their original petroleum potential prior to strong Neogene–Quaternary burial and heating.

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SEPM Special Publication

Analyzing the Thermal History of Sedimentary Basins: Methods and Case Studies

Nicholas B. Harris
Nicholas B. Harris
University of Alberta
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Kenneth E. Peters
Kenneth E. Peters
Schlumberger and Stanford University
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SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2012




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