In January 1981, R/V Glomar Challenger drilled five holes in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico to provide ground data for extensive seismic surveys and to document the pre-Tertiary history of the Gulf.
Holes 535 and 540 were drilled in a basinal terrane for maximum penetration of the Cretaceous-Tertiary sequence. Rhythmic alternations of light bioturbated and dark laminated carbonaceous limestone represent the Early Cretaceous interval. Some of the dark layers are rich but immature oil source rocks. The limestones resemble the Blake-Bahama Formation in the North Atlantic but their stratigraphic age overlaps in part with the Hatteras Shale. Late Cretaceous rocks are almost totally missing in the basin sites and the Cenozoic section consists of chalk and marly carbonate ooze.
Holes 536,537, and 538A were drilled on high-standing fault blocks. Hole 537 recovered phyllite that records 40Ar/39Ar plateau ages of about 500 m.y. and is overlain by an Early Cretaceous deepening sequence of alluvial to littoral elastics and oolitic-oncolitic limestones, capped by a thin sequence of Cretaceous and Cenozoic pelagics. In Hole 538A, basement consists of mylonitic gneiss and amphibolite, intruded by several generations of diabase dikes (that is, “transitional” crust). 40Ar/39Ar dates of hornblendes and biotite from the regional metamorphic rocks suggest a 500-m.y. (“Pan-African”) age with mild late Paleozoic thermal overprint. 40Ar/39Ar whole-rock dates from the dikes suggest intrusions between 190 and 160 m.y. ago. Basement is covered by a thin layer of pelagic chalk, followed by Early Cretaceous skeletal-oolitic limestones and, finally, Cretaceous-Tertiary pelagics. The oolitic-oncolitic limestones at both sites represent either parts of a shallow-water carbonate platform or platform talus deposited in deep water. Hole 536 bottomed in shallow-water dolomite (Jurassic or Permian), overlain by middle Cretaceous skeletal limestones with shallow-water biota and intercalations of pelagic chalk, interpreted as Cretaceous talus at the foot of the Campeche Bank. Cretaceous-Tertiary chalk and carbonate ooze cap the sequence.
Among the most significant results of the leg are: (1) recovery of “transitional” crust with early Paleozoic (Pan-African) metamorphic rocks, (2) recovery of Early Cretaceous deep-water limestones with immature petroleum source beds, (3) recovery of mid-Cretaceous platform talus resembling the reservoirs in the Poza Rica and probably some of the Reforma fields of Mexico, and (4) discovery of a Late Cretaceous hiatus of 30 m.y. that corresponds approximately to the “mid-Cretaceous unconformity” recognized widely on seismic records in the Gulf of Mexico.