O-isotope analysis of shales sampled from wells drilled through sedimentary deposits in the Gulf of Mexico region indicates that the sediments and rocks are not isotopically equilibrated systems — even those that have been buried to depths where temperatures are as high as 170 °C. In comparison with the coarser fractions, the finer fractions of both clay minerals and quartz are almost always richer in O18. O-isotope disequilibrium among the clay fractions becomes less marked as burial temperature increases. O-isotope exchange between clay and pore water become more extensive at higher temperatures; this corresponds to more extensive diagenetic alteration of mixed-layer illite-smectite. There is no evidence for O-isotope exchange between detrital quartz and pore water. However, quartz that forms diagenetically as an accompaniment to the conversion of smectite to illite layers in the mixed-layer clay forms in equilibrium with the pore water.

The usefulness of O-isotope geothermometry for determination of the maximum temperatures to which shales have been heated during burial was investigated. Temperatures were calculated from the O-isotope fractionations between coexisting fine-grained quartz and clay from three wells; these calculated temperatures progressively approached the measured well (logged) temperatures as depth of burial and temperature increased. In one well, good agreement between calculated and measured temperatures was obtained for measured temperatures between 100 and 180 °C. In two other wells, satisfactory agreement was approached but not obtained at measured temperatures as high as 120 °C. Temperatures calculated from the O-isotope fractionations of quartz and calcite or calcite and clay were not reasonable. This probably reflects isotope exchange between calcite and pore water after the silicates attained their measured isotope ratios. Consequently, calcite is not a suitable mineral for use in isotope geothermometry of diagenetically altered shales.

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