ABSTRACT

The Lower Cretaceous (Valanginian) Mulichinco Formation of the Neuquén Basin in western Argentina is host to important hydrocarbon reservoirs, encompassing a wide variety of sedimentary facies, including thick eolian deposits in its lower interval in proximal positions. Ten ichnofabrics are characterized based on the analysis of cores from the El Mangrullo oil field. These ichnofabrics have been grouped in four associations, representing eolian dunes, eolian sand sheets, interdunes, and fluvial sheet floods. In terms of the ichnofacies model, both the Scoyenia and Octopodichnus-Entradichnus ichnofacies are identified. Ichnologic information has been integrated with sedimentologic and sequence-stratigraphic information. The studied succession comprises a 3rd-order depositional sequence that is subdivided into three 4th-order sequences stacked in a backstepping pattern as a result of a rise in the water table. The base of the 3rd-order sequence is represented by the intra-Valanginian unconformity that in this area separates marine deposits below from continental deposits above. Overall the 3rd-order sequence reflects the vertical transition from a dominance of eolian dune deposits to eolian sand sheet and fluvial sheet flood deposits, the latter intercalating with marginal-marine intervals. Application of available conceptual frameworks to understand trace-fossil distribution in desert environments suggests that the eolian Mulichinco ichnofauna indicates a temporal evolution from hyper-arid to arid and semi-arid conditions. The results of the present analysis argue against the common assumption of deserts as barren of life and provide further support to the notion of an archetypal eolian ichnofacies. This study expands the realm of application of ichnology in subsurface to eolian environments by providing a characterization of an ichnofauna from a desert setting based on core analysis.

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