Australasian asphaltite strandings: Their origin reviewed in light of the effects of weathering and biodegradation on their biomarker and isotopic profiles
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Asphaltites, long known to strand along the coastline of southern Australia and as distantly as New Zealand and Macquarie Island, are widely regarded as artefacts of submarine oil seepage. Their remarkably uniform composition suggests a common source: marine shale containing sulphur-rich Type II kerogen, probably deposited during an Early Cretaceous oceanic anoxic event (OAE). Suitable hydrocarbon kitchens may exist in the offshore Bight and Otway basins. The physical character of the asphaltites, including laminations and flow structures, and their degree of alteration, which is not the result of biodegradation or extensive water washing, suggest an origin from subsurface tar mats subsequently exposed by the incision of submarine canyons, with the possible formation of asphaltic volcanoes. API gravities of 4–18° impart quasi-neutral buoyancy, implying many asphaltites were submerged drifters prior to stranding, their degree of weathering reflecting, at least in part, the residence time in the marine environment. For any individual asphaltite specimen, this will depend on the proximity of the seafloor seep to the stranding site, an important consideration when attempting to locate their point of origin.This study investigates the hydrocarbon biomarker signatures and n-alkane δ13C profiles of asphaltite specimens from stranding sites on the Eyre Peninsula (n = 2), Kangaroo Island (n = 4) and the Limestone Coast (n = 3), South Australia, and the south island of New Zealand (n = 2). Sub-samples of the interior and weathered surface of each specimen were analysed. No distinction could be made between strandings based on their source-dependent molecular and isotopic signatures, confirming their common origin. Comparison of the interior and exterior sub-samples revealed subtle although consistent differences. Given their degree of degradation and isotopic variance, these Australasian asphaltites seem to be products of low intensity seeps in the Ceduna Sub-basin of the Bight Basin and/or Morum Sub-basin of the Otway Basin.
This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in the Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology, Volume 57, November 2014, Pages 572–593. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2014.06.013
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