The upper reservoir zone of the Lower Cretaceous Kharaib Formation (46–54 m thick in the studied wells) is regarded as the upper portion of a third-order depositional sequence comprising higher-order cycles. Whereas the third-order sequence interpretation is clearly supported by the upward-shoaling trend of the reservoir zone, relationships defining the component cycles have not previously been documented and are the focus of the present study. Core descriptions from four wells in a single oilfield reveal little evidence of facies changes or trends of facies patterns indicative of high-frequency depositional cycles. Cycle boundaries could possibly be represented by the repetitive pattern of coarse beds (rudstone and floatstone) 0.1–2 m thick, commonly having sharp basal contacts and gradational upper contacts with enclosing packstone to wackestone. Because the coarse beds do not appear correlative between wells, however, we prefer the alternative interpretation that they reflect episodic storm events which locally redistributed detritus, sourced from a patchwork of low-relief lithosomes, across the flat surface of the epeiric Kharaib platform–lagoon. Although the existence of high-order eustatic fluctuations during upper Kharaib deposition is well established, low-amplitude variations in water depth may not have touched down on the sea floor to significantly affect sediment textures in contrast with the dominant storm signal.
Reservoir sub-zones used for production operations, but previously suggested to be fourth-order parasequence sets, are defined by dips in porosity-log profiles, reflecting thin (approximately 1 m) intervals of increased stylolite frequency. These boundaries are thus diagenetic in character, but their correlation over tens to hundreds of kilometers indicates an underlying depositional control. We suggest that the link between sea level and diagenesis is depositional-clay content, which facilitates stylolitic dissolution. Profiles of bulk-rock alumina analyses in the studied cores show subtle indications of higher clay content at the sub-zone tops. Much greater clay peaks mark the third-order sequence boundaries, resulting in the “dense” (very low porosity) zones above and below the studied reservoir zone and the increased stylolite frequency in the upper and lower several meters of the zone. Possible factors promoting clay influx across a carbonate shelf during falls in sea level include increased stream gradients and more humid climate.