Palynofacies classification of submarine fan depositional environments: Outcrop examples from the Marnoso-Arenacea Formation, Italy

A. D. McArthur*, F. Gamberi, B. C. Kneller, M. I. Wakefield, P. A. Souza, J. Kuchle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Basin floor fans contain some of the largest deep-water hydrocarbon accumulations discovered, however they also demonstrate extremely complex stratigraphic architecture, understanding of which is crucial for maximum recovery. Here we develop a new method, based upon palynofacies analysis, for the distinction of the different depositional environments that are commonly associated with basin floor fans. Previous studies and our sedimentological analysis allow good confidence in the discrimination of the different depositional environments of the outcropping Marnoso-Arenacea Formation fan system. One hundred and thirty-five samples were collected from mudstones in conjunction with sedimentary logging of 871 m of outcrops. Six lithofacies associations are described and interpreted to represent lobe axis, lobe fringe, fan fringe, contained interlobe, basin plain, and starved high depositional sub-environments. Palynofacies of these elements demonstrate turbidites to be rich in terrestrial organic matter, with sixteen categories of matter recognised. The abundances and proportions of particles varies between sub-environments, with lobe axis deposits containing the largest, densest particles, with a transition to ever smaller and lighter particles moving toward the basin plain. Fuzzy C-means statistical analysis was used to explore this trend. Distribution of organic matter is not random, but is dominated by hydrodynamic sorting and sequential fall-out of particles as turbidity currents passed across the basin. This allows a palynofacies classification scheme to be constructed to assist the identification of depositional environments of submarine fans, which may be combined with subsurface data to assist reservoir characterisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-199
Number of pages19
JournalMarine and Petroleum Geology
Early online date18 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

We thank BG Brasil, a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell plc, for financial support for this project and permission to publish. McArthur is grateful to the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) for the scholarship 049/2012. The Agência Nacional do Petróleo approved this project. Handling and comments by Editor Claudio Nicola Di Celma, as well as constructive reviews by Amandine Prelat and an anonymous reviewer are greatly appreciated.


  • Deep-marine
  • Miocene
  • Outcrop analogue
  • Particulate organic matter
  • Reservoir architecture
  • Turbidites


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