The sedimentary architecture and provenance of the early Mesozoic incipient northern Gulf of Mexico basin remains controversial due to both lack of outcrop exposure and sample scarcity across the southern United States with subcrop depths approaching 6 km. The Eagle Mills Formation and coeval deposition across the northern Gulf of Mexico provides both a stratigraphic foundation for some ∼15-km-thick overlying Mesozoic and Cenozoic deposits, and a coeval pre-salt equivalent for southern synrift deposits, in one of the most economically significant hydrocarbon basins in the world. This study presents more than 3200 new detrital zircon U-Pb analyses from sixteen Late Triassic pre-salt, siliciclastic, subcrop well samples, and combines over 14,000 linear kilometers of 2-D multi-channel seismic reflection data, 1511 geophysical well logs, and biostratigraphic data from 2478 wells to construct basin-scale pre-salt isochore and structure maps spanning the northern Gulf of Mexico margin from Florida to the USA-Mexican border.

The data show that incipient Gulf of Mexico paleodrainage pathways held individual distinctions between basement sources and tectonic controls in three primary regions across the northern Gulf of Mexico: (1) The western Gulf of Mexico paleodrainage extended from the Central Texas uplift highlands to the submarine Potosi Fan on the western margin of Laurentia with local tributary sources from the East Mexico Arc, Yucatán/Maya, and Marathon-Ouachita provinces as evidenced by inverse Monte Carlo unmixing of peri-Gondwanan (ca. 700–500 Ma), Appalachian/Ouachita (500–280 Ma), Grenville (1250–950 Ma), and Mid-Continent/Granite-Rhyolite Province (1500–1300 Ma) detrital zircon ages. Isochore and associated geophysical well and seismic data suggest that by Early Jurassic time this depocenter had shifted into the present-day western Gulf of Mexico as East Mexico Arc development continued. (2) Southerly drainage in the north-central Gulf of Mexico region bifurcated around the Sabine and Monroe uplifted terranes with southwestern flow characterized by peri-Gondwanan detrital zircon ages from late Paleozoic accreted basement or discrete flexural successor basins, and southeastern fluvial networks distinguished by traditional North American basement province sources including Grenville, Mid-Continent, and Yavapai-Mazatzal. (3) Eastern Gulf of Mexico regional paleodrainage, with regional southern flow dictated by the brittle extensional tectonics of the South Georgia Rift as well as the regional southern flexure of the South Florida Basin, resulted in almost all pre-salt detrital zircon siliciclastic ages from this region to be dominated by local Gondwanan/peri-Gondwanan aged sources including the proximal Suwannee terrane and Osceola Granite complex. These regional, synrift sediment provenance models provide the first critical allochthonous evidence of Late Triassic–Early Jurassic paleodrainage stemming from the Appalachian-Ouachita hinterlands into the incipient northern Gulf of Mexico basin with critical implications for pre-salt hydrocarbon exploration and carbon sequestration reservoir potential.

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