Numerical modellingstudy of mechanisms of mid-basin salt canopy evolution and their potential applications to the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Salt canopies are present in many of the worldwide large salt basins and are key players in the basins’ structural evolution as well as in the development of associated hydrocarbon systems. This study employs 2D finite-element models which incorporate the dynamical interaction of viscous salt and frictional-plastic sediments in a gravity-spreading system. We investigate the general emplacement of salt canopies that form in the centre of a large, autochthonous salt basin. This is motivated by the potential application to a mid-basin canopy in the NW Gulf of Mexico (GoM) that developed in the late Eocene. Three different salt expulsion and canopy formation concepts that have been proposed in the salt-tectonic literature for the GoM are tested. Two of these mechanisms require pre-existing diapirs as precursory structures. We include their evolution in the models to assure a continuous, smooth evolution of the salt-sediment system. The most efficient canopy formation takes place under the squeezed diapir mechanism. Here, shortening of a region containing pre-existing diapirs is absorbed by the salt (the weakest part of the system), which is then expelled onto the seafloor. The expulsion rollover mechanism, which evacuates salt from beneath evolving rollover structures and expels it both laterally and to the surface, was not successfully captured by the numerical models. No rollover structures developed and only minor amounts of allochthonous salt emerged to the seafloor. The breached anticline mechanism requires substantial shortening of salt-cored, pre-weakened folds such that the salt breaches the anticlines and is expelled to the seafloor. The amount of shortening may be too large to occur in the central part of a salt basin, but may explain canopy evolution closer to the distal end of the allochthonous salt. When applying the different concepts to the northwestern GoM, none of the models adequately describes the entire system, yet the squeezed diapir mechanism captures most structural features of the Eocene paleocanopy. It is nevertheless possible that different mechanisms have acted in combination or sequentially in the northwestern GoM.