Estimation of eroded overburden at unconformities is essential to accurately constrain burial histories and predict the timing of hydrocarbon maturation. In the Ghadames Basin, three independent techniques, palaeo-isopach construction, sonic velocity and vitrinite reflectance analysis, were employed. The resultant basin model suggests that only the two most significant unconformities, the Hercynian (Late Carboniferous) and Alpine (early Eocene), have a major control on timing of hydrocarbon charge.
Modelling indicates only one period of generation from the Lower Silurian shales on the western margin of the basin, with 95% hydrocarbon generation prior to Hercynian exhumation. The central basin and southern margin experienced maximum burial during Eocene time. The Middle–Upper Devonian mudstones are the main source rocks and they did not generate significant volumes of hydrocarbons over the basin centre until Cretaceous time; they are currently within the peak oil generation zone.
In Libya, on the eastern/northeastern flank of the basin, results indicate Cenozoic maximum burial, followed by up to 2000 m of Alpine exhumation. The magnitude of this exhumation has not been recognized previously, although it is a critical component of the basin model as it has a major impact on potential hydrocarbon charge in this area. Maturation models predict that the Lower Silurian source underwent two generative phases: (1) pre-Hercynian (Carboniferous) generation; and, significantly, (2) post-Hercynian (Late Jurassic–Cenozoic) generation. The identification of late hydrocarbon generation offers potential for oil and gas to migrate into post-Hercynian traps. Over the western, northern and eastern flanks, the Devonian source rocks remain immature/ marginally mature at present day.