ABSTRACT

Estuaries provide an excellent depositional environment to study the interaction between minerals (clays, quartz sands…) and biofilms. The estuary bottom is largely covered by biofilms that impact sediment stability, the mud and clay-coat content in sands, and sedimentary-structure stability, thus influencing sandstone properties during burial. Although numerous oil, gas, and geothermal reservoirs are exploited in estuarine heterolithic point bars, many questions remain about the origin of reservoir properties and heterogeneities in these sedimentary bodies. In order to better understand the sedimentary and microbiologic processes in estuarine systems and to better predict the reservoir quality of estuarine sandstones, this study characterizes a modern heterolithic point bar located in the Garonne estuarine channel at various scales, ranging from the microscopic (thin section) to the macroscopic (core) scale. Three piston cores 4.5 to 6.8 m long were drilled in the Bordeaux North Point Bar. Three main facies were identified in these cores: 1) sandy gravel, 2) heterolithic, medium-grained sand dunes, and 3) thin heterolithic, fine-grained sand beds with mud drapes. The sands are classified as lithic arkoses to feldspathic litharenites. Detrital clay grain coats, which at deep burial depths are transformed to permeability preserving authigenic chlorite coatings, are observed from the base to the top of the point bar. These detrital clay grain coats are mainly composed of smectite, illite, kaolinite, and chlorite, intermixed with other components, such as diatoms or pyrite. Biofilms of exopolymeric substances (EPSs), mostly produced by diatoms, are believed to control the adhesion of the clay coats to the surface of sand grains. Quantification by thin section shows that on average about 30% of the sands are coated in the point bar. The proportion of clay-coated grains appears to be independent of facies. Radiocarbon age dating measured on organic matter points to significant vertical mixing, highlighting the significance of erosion and redeposition. The activities of 137Cs and 210Pb indicate a vertical sedimentation rate of ca. 0.02 m.yr–1 in the muddy chute channel. These ages, coupled to historical maps, suggest that the present-day point bar has developed over the last 300 years with a vertical sedimentation rate ranging from 0.015 to 0.036 m.y–1 and a lateral migration rate of about 1 m.y–1. The combination of sedimentary geology, thin-section petrography, and mineralogy at high spatial and temporal resolutions highlights the potential of this study area as a modern analogue for ancient tidally influenced point-bar deposits associated with clay coatings.

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