The Orphan Basin, located offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, is one of the largest under-explored basins along the eastern Canadian Margin. With large 3D seismic surveys executed in 2004-2005 and a deepwater well planned for 2006, the basin has become the new focus area for hydrocarbon exploration in Atlantic Canada. The basin formed during the Mesozoic rifting of Pangaea and Atlantic Ocean opening and had common evolution with the Jeanne d’Arc and Flemish Pass basins to the south and the Porcupine and Rockall Trough basins on the Irish Margin (Enachescu et al., 2006). The sedimentary basin fill consists of Mesozoic and Cenozoic strata that exceed ten kilometers in thickness in some places. Regional cross-sections reveal a thick Tertiary succession in the west, and a starved succession in the east (Enachescu et al., 2004). The Tertiary stratigraphy is presumed to be similar to that encountered in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin to the south, which consists mainly of deepwater siltstones and shales with local sandstone bodies (Deptuck, 2003).

Fig. 01
Figure 1. Modern regional seismic grid (GSI and two LITHOPROBE lines) (Black), industry wells (Red), and exploration blocks (Blue) superimposed on the bathymetry map of the Orphan Basin and environs. Location of Figure 2 is shown in black.
Fig. 02
Figure 2. Interpreted southwest–northeast seismic section (courtesy of GSI) in the Orphan Basin. Eight seismic horizons divide the Tertiary succession. Line location is shown in Figure 1.


The Paleogene-Neogene (Tertiary) interval is clearly imaged in more than 25,000 line-kilometers of high-quality, 92-fold 2D seismic data that were recently (2000-2003) acquired by GSI and donated to Memorial University for research. These data provide an opportunity to separate the Tertiary interval into smaller subdivisions and identify regional sedimentation patterns. The seismic and palynological information of the deepwater Texaco Blue H-28 well (Koning et al., 1988; Geological Survey of Canada Basin Database), located in the western part of the basin, provides ground-truth for the interpretation of the Tertiary succession.

Seismic Stratigraphy

Eight seismic horizons, including the seabed, the widespread Base Tertiary Unconformity and a number of intra-Tertiary unconformities are interpreted throughout the 2D seismic grid. These horizons divide the Cenozoic succession into seven major seismic-stratigraphic units. Three of the mapped units (Units 2, 4 and 6) exhibit a chaotic low- amplitude internal acoustic character, and external shapes that are consistent with mass transport deposits. Mass transport deposits (MTD’s) are generally deepwater features that form through the mobilization or downslope movement of sedimentary strata and the re-deposition of the transported material (e.g., mass flows, debris flows, turbidites, submarine slumps and/or slides). MTD’s exhibit a seismic facies that is characterized by mounded external forms and hummocky to parallel low to moderate amplitude internal reflections that show poor continuity (Walker, 1992). In seismic profiles from this study, the interpreted MTD’s show local evidence of amalgamation of the deposits created by more than one failure event and/or possible fluid-escape structures at the top. One MTD appears to incorporate a displaced block at its base. The remaining seismic units consist mainly of alternating high- and low-amplitude parallel reflections.

Mapping Results

Time-structure and time-thickness maps reveal ancient seabed morphologies (e.g. Figure 3), the distribution of key seismic horizons and the thicknesses of units within the basin (Figure 4). The following observations are based on the preliminary maps:

  1. Unit 1 is thickest in the southeast and thins toward the northwest;
  2. Unit 2 exhibits a roughly sheet-like geometry that covers much of the East Orphan Basin floor;
  3. Unit 4 overlies a channelized unconformity (Horizon 4) and is thickest along the southwestern basin margin;
  4. Unit 6 consists of two discrete mounded deposits in the north (Figure 4);
  5. In general, the mapped MTD’s occur to the immediate east of the basin-bounding White Sail Fault.
Fig. 03
Figure 3. Workstation-generated time-structure map of Horizon 4 in the Orphan Basin. Red and yellow are structurally high areas marking the basin margins. Within the basin, green and light blue colors are local structural highs and dark blue, purple, and pink colors are structural lows. Northeast-aligned channels are evident in the centre of the map area (dark blue).
Fig. 04
Figure 4. Schematic distribution map of thick mass transport deposits (Units 2, 4 and 6) and Horizon 4 channels in the Orphan Basin. Unit outlines reflect the distribution of the thick part of each mass transport deposit (thickness cut-offs are indicated in the legend). In general, the mapped mass transport deposits are located immediately east of the White Sail Fault.


From these preliminary results, we conclude that the distribution of MTD’s and sediment pathways changed throughout the Tertiary. Sediments were likely sourced from the southeast and deposited in a basinal low in the early Paleocene. Multiple widespread sediment failures covered much of the basin floor and buried a deep Paleocene channel incision in the mid to late Paleocene. West-directed progradation began in the early Eocene, and by the middle to late Eocene sediment failures from the western and southern margins accumulated at the base of slope, filling a channel complex. Finally, in the Miocene, more localized MTD’s accumulated over the Central Orphan High. It is postulated that one or more of the mapped failure events were triggered by movements along the White Sail Fault and/or its imbricates.


A number of features identified in the dataset can be considered geological hazards and should be considered while drilling through the Tertiary section:

  1. Multiple large-scale failure events are p resent and may include internal erosional surfaces, displaced blocks, and/or overpressure conditions;
  2. Gravity-induced listric faults, which are present along basin margins and near the Central Orphan High might be accompanied by a broad spectrum of soft-sediment deformation and collapse structures (e.g., creep folds, buried paleo-fault scarps);
  3. Buried channels are present at several stratigraphic levels;
  4. Dense planar extensional faults are observed in some parts of Unit 5;
  5. Possible gas/fluid-escape structures or chimneys are present, and locally extend to the nearsurface. These features might be associated with fault planes that act as fluid conduits and they might also be linked to the presence of mounds at the seabed;
  6. Emergent and/or shallowly buried basement highs are locally present; and g) Shallow high-amplitude seismic reflections might be indicative of water- or gas-filled channels.


The Paleogene-Neogene succession in the Orphan Basin forms a thick wedge that is presently divided into seven seismic stratigraphic units. Mass transport deposits are present and reveal that a number of failure events occurred in the Tertiary. Relative dating indicates that large-scale failure events occurred during the Paleocene, Eocene and Miocene. One or more of these deposits might have been triggered by movements along the White Sail Fault, which bounds the western side of the East Orphan Basin.

Fig. 05
Figure 5. Summary of observed Paleogene-Neogene sedimentation patterns in the Orphan Basin.



Paul and Davey Einarsson, Ivan Sereda, Dave Taber, Bob Leatherbarrow and Louis Hebert, Sam Nader, Tony Kocurko; Michelle Martin, Steve Kearsey, Victoria Hardy, John Hogg, Satinder Chopra; Chevron Canada for an industry research grant, GSI for seismic data donation, Landmark Graphics for software and hardware donation, Petroleum Research Atlantic Canada (PR-AC) and Pan- Atlantic Petroleum Systems Consortium (PPSC) for research and study grants, Memorial University, C-NLOPB, CSPG and CSEG.


About the Author(s)

Renee Burton-Ferguson is a 2nd year Geology/Geophysics doctoral student at Memorial University of Newfoundland in the Department of Earth Sciences, under the co-supervision of Drs. Rick Hiscott and Michael Enachescu. Renee’s thesis concerns the seismic stratigraphy and structure of the Tertiary sequence of the Orphan Basin. Her education at Memorial includes M.Sc. (2002) and B.Sc. (Honours) (1998) degrees in Geology. Her experience, gained through research at Memorial, summer contracts at Shell and Chevron Canada Resources and 3 years of work at Fugro Jacques GeoSurveys, has focused on hydrocarbon exploration in offshore Newfoundland, Turkey, and the foothills of Alberta as well as wellsite assessment and reporting activities in offshore Newfoundland, offshore Nova Scotia, offshore Trinidad, offshore Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico. She has worked with a variety of geophysical data including 2D and 3D seismic, multibeam bathymetry, backscatter and side scan sonar, and has participated in sea-surveys in offshore Turkey, offshore Trinidad and on the Grand Banks.

Dr. Michael Enachescu – is Husky Energy Senior Fellow in Exploration Geophysics at Memorial University of Newfoundland, an Associate Professor at the Department of Earth Sciences, Pan-Atlantic Petroleum Systems Consortium (PPSC) and Oil and Gas Development Partnership (OGDP) and an advisor to Palo Alto Investors group (PAI) and to several oil companies, seismic contractors and scientific panels. He worked in resource exploration and geophysical research in Europe and after 1981 as a petroleum explorationist in Calgary. He has been involved with major exploration drilling programs in the Grand Banks, Scotian Shelf and Slope, Labrador Sea, Arctic, Beaufort Sea first with Suncor Resources, Trillium/Mosbacher and from 1984 to 2003 with Husky Energy. Michael was a member of the regional mapping, discovery and delineation teams and a contributor to the Development Plan Applications for Terra Nova and White Rose fields, offshore Newfoundland. Michael was a member of the Scientific Committee of LITHOPROBE, a member of the Site Survey Panel of ODP and IODP (1994-2003) and a volunteer with CSEG (2nd VP, Technical Chair GeoCanada 2000 convention and repeatedly annual meeting session chair) and with many other professional societies and charity organizations. Since at Memorial (fall 2003), Michael is teaching Atlantic Geology, Rift Tectonics, Marine Seismic and Seismic Interpretation courses and conducts research with a group of 12 graduate students in structure and tectonics and petroleum systems of Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore basins. Michael has extensively published on the structural setting and petroleum geology of Atlantic Canada and received the 1999 CSEG Meritorious Award. Michael is a member of CSEG, SEG, EAEG, CGU, AAPG, CSPG, RGS, and a P. Geoph. with APEGGA.

Rick Hiscott obtained his Ph.D. from McMaster University in 1977, and has been a member of the Earth Sciences Department at Memorial University since that time. His primary interests are (1) transport processes for deepwater gravity flows, (2) submarine-fan and related environments, and (3) shelf sequence stratigraphy during Quaternary transgressions and regressions. He has participated in four Ocean Drilling Program expeditions (Labrador Sea and Baffin Bay; Izu-Bonin Arc; Amazon Fan; Newfoundland Basin). Hiscott co-edited a 2005 GAC Special Paper entitled “Petroleum Resources and Reservoirs of the Grand Banks, eastern Canadian margin”. With colleagues, he has been involved in a recent scientific debate about whether or not a dramatic “biblical” flood occurred in the Black Sea area in the early Holocene. Hiscott is a member of IAS, SEPM and GAC.



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