Tectonic development of North African basins
Published:January 01, 2003
M. P. Coward, A. C. Ries, 2003. "Tectonic development of North African basins", Petroleum Geology of Africa: New Themes and Developing Technologies, T. Arthur, D. S. MacGregor, N. R. Cameron
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Mostly the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic basins of North Africa have generally followed, and reworked, earlier basement trends formed by: (1) the NW-SE accretion of continental and oceanic terranes onto a Pan-African nucleus in northeastern Africa, and (2) the collision of this amalgam of accretionary terranes with the West African Craton. During the Upper Precambrian Pan-African Orogeny, the West African Craton formed a rigid block which indented this amalgam of accreted mobile belts to form much of North Africa. Intrusion of this indentor into North Africa caused the expulsion of narrow, triangular-shaped blocks of lithosphere to the north and south in a tectonic style very similar to the Miocene-Pliocene deformation of Tibet. Expulsion reactivated the earlier shear zones to form an anastomosing pattern of steeply dipping shears with left and right lateral sense of displacement. Left lateral shear also affected the northern edge of the West African Craton during this process of indentation.
Subsequent rifting of the Pan-African mountain belt resulted in a series of grabens, which were infilled with Upper Precambrian-Cambrian molasse. These are the precursor basins for the Palaeozoic sediments which cover much of North Africa. The effects of rifting continued into the Cambro-Ordovician in the western basins. During the Silurian-Devonian many of the rifts were reworked. A new basin formed in the Atlas and Anti-Atlas, related to the growth of the proto-Tethyan Ocean.
Basin inversion characterizes the Palaeozoic structures of the western Atlas and Anti-Atlas, producing thickened crust and a large mountain belt during the Carboniferous. Foreland basins formed on either side of this mountain belt and both the mountains and the adjacent basins were compartmentalized by WNW-ESE-trending transfer zones. Pan-African structures, within the African Plate, were reworked with further indentation of the West African Craton into Pan-African crust. The craton was pushed eastward, generating a left lateral shear couple along its northern margin. NW–SE-trending faults were reworked as dominantly left lateral strike-slip faults and N-S-trending fault blocks were rotated slightly in a clockwise sense. There was probably further lateral expulsion of lithosphere, ahead of the NE–SW-trending front of the indentor, reworking earlier N-S-trending shear zones.
The North African Palaeozoic basins were inverted during the Hercynian-Appalachian Orogeny. In the Ahnet Basin the shortening was approximately NNE-SSW, perpendicular to the trend of the structures. This inversion was particularly marked in the Ougarta-Ahnet Basin where it produced a series of open to closed, north-south to NW-SE-trending folds above reactivated basement faults.
During the Mesozoic, the Hercynian-Appalachian mountain belt underwent extension to produce deep rift basins infilled with continental sediments and some volcanics. The High Adas formed as an arm to the Atlantic Basin. Transfer zones have a WNW-ESE trend, indicating that this was the main extension direction, similar to that in western and southwestern Europe.
In northeastern Algeria, the orientation of the Mesozoic grabens suggests reworking of the basement fabric formed by Pan-African accretionary tectonics. The structures appear to die out toward the southwest into a broad transfer zone with some NW-SE-trending faults. The northeastern edge of the basin is obscured by later rift basins in the eastern Mediterranean. The Palaeozoic faults of the Amguid Spur, overlying one of the major shear zones of the Hoggar, formed a structural high throughout the Mesozoic with probably several pulses of inversion. An important episode of inversion occurred during the Aptian-Albian with the development of anticlines and associated reverse faults.
Crustal extension associated with block faulting occurred in the Sirte Basin of Libya during the Mid- and Late Cretaceous. The block faults trend NNW-SSE to NW-SE, cross-cutting earlier Palaeozoic fold structures at a high angle but possibly parallel to some of the basement shear zones. The faults form the tips of a rift basin which opened between Sicily and Tunisia in the central Mediterranean. The Cretaceous faults have a component of right lateral displacement as well as normal fault movements.
The Mesozoic basins of the High and Middle Atlas were inverted during the Late Cretaceous-Early Oligocene. The displacement direction, as seen from the transfer systems, was NW-SE, almost perpendicular to the Middle Atlas, but at a lower angle with the High and Sahara Atlas, which must have had components of oblique or right lateral movement. Minor effects of this inversion are reported from the Saharan basins.
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Petroleum Geology of Africa: New Themes and Developing Technologies
As frontier exploration in Africa moves into ever-deeper water and new basins, there is an increasing need to mitigate the high costs by reducing risk. One way of doing this is by drawing on knowledge from other areas. The book includes regional papers ranging from syntheses on a continental scale to details of the salt tectonics of the West African margin. It also addresses the need to continue using technologies to their limits by including papers on topics as diverse as gravity interpretation and fluid inclusion studies. The book provides essential reading for those requiring further insight into the origins of Africa’s diverse petroleum systems, and will be key to geologists and geophysicists involved in the exploration for and exploitation of oil and gas throughout Africa. Of particular note is the supplementary CD-ROM containing maps of Africa’s petroleum basins classified by age of target reservoir system.