Industry-Rice Earth Science Symposia

IRESS – 2017

Continental Margins II: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the building of a passive margin

February 23-24, 2017 – Rice University, Houston, TX

sponsored by the Department of Earth Science and the Baker Institute’s Center for Energy Studies

VENUE LOCATION:  Baker Institute of Public Policy
click here for map of university
Visitor parking is available in the underground garage at the Jones Business School or next to entrance 20 from Rice Blvd.

The importance of passive margins

The development of a passive margin is one of the most important processes on Earth.  Passive margins mark the transition between continents and ocean basins.  They bear the scars of continental breakup, manifested by the presence or absence of rift-related magmatism and the deep structure of the ocean-continent transition.  They hold the sedimentary archives of the opening and development of ocean basins and recorded in these archives are changes in depositional environment related, on long timescales, to deep Earth processes governing rifting and the eventual subsidence that leads to accommodation space for sediments. Superimposed on these long wavelength and timescale mantle processes are the effects of climatic and environmental changes, including relative sea level fluctuations.  Major unconformities, time correlative across large lengthscales, may speak of profound global environmental change whereas variations in sedimentary facies on smaller lengthscales may speak of short timescale internal changes within sediment distributary systems and relative sea level change. Deconvolution of all these signals is key to understanding what passive margin sediments have to tell us about Earth history. Importantly, throughout Earth’s history, passive margins have been the dominant repositories of carbon, in the form of carbonate platforms and organic carbon rich shales.  Understanding passive margins is not only key to understanding hydrocarbon energy potential for the 21st century but is also key to understanding the global carbon cycle, which is intimately linked to the evolution of climate and life on Earth.

A new framework for understanding passive margin development

The purpose of this workshop is to bring together industry and academic leaders from different disciplines to critically examine past and current paradigms on the origin and evolution of passive continental margins.  Much of our initial understanding of passive margin development was established forty years ago. Industry and academic leaders had joined forces to bring together vast and seemingly disparate datasets, ranging from geophysics to stratigraphy to geochemistry. This was a time when new technologies opened up the ability to generate new datasets never seen before, and the synthesis led to the paradigm of sequence stratigraphy, arguably one of the most important and successful examples of thinking about the Earth as a holistic, fully integrated dynamic system.

The last decade, however, has seen an explosion of technological and conceptual advances, which have provided new information on the nature of continental margins, which in turn has challenged certain aspects of the sequence stratigraphy paradigm.   Seismic stratigraphy and the characterization of geochemical and physical properties of sediments through the availability of cores and high resolution well-logs have reached an unprecedented level of resolution, which combined with a revolution in data processing and imaging, are providing new insights into the structure of continental margins.  Of particular importance are the recent advances in geochemistry and geobiology, which are changing our views of how carbon and nutrients are transported and sequestered in continental margins. Over the last twenty years, we have also seen major shifts in our understanding of the geodynamics of rifting and passive margin development as well as the interactions between Earth’s deep and surface processes.

Important, unsolved questions are as follows.  What are the relative roles of climate, relative sea level, ice volume, tectonics, mantle dynamics and sediment transport dynamics in controlling major sequence boundaries? Does magmatism play an active or passive role in continental rifting? How dynamic is the continental shelf and what role does it play in terms of global carbon and biogeochemical cycling (source or sink)?  What controls long and short term climate variability (My to ky) and how is this manifested in the stratigraphic framework of passive margins? How do we interpret the lithospheric and sedimentologic evolution of a developing passive margin in the context of glacio- and tectono-eustasy, mantle dynamics, climate, erosion and weathering? How do we identify and interpret relative sea level change? We now know that all of these processes are intimately linked, but no holistic framework, tying deep and surface Earth processes, across different length and timescales, currently exists.

An interdisciplinary think tank at Rice University

With all these advancements, there is no better time than now to revisit, challenge and redefine our understanding of passive margins, and equally importantly to explore the implications for natural resources, paleo-environments, climate and Earth history.  We are also in a time where we know more as a community, but we have become more specialized than ever before, making it difficult to communicate and synthesize.  We are at a crossroads, where further progress requires an interdisciplinary approach that juxtaposes the deep and surface Earth, industry and academics, and finally physicists, chemists and geologists.  Houston, through the IRESS initiative launched in 2014 and sponsored by Rice University’s Department of Earth Science, offers a unique opportunity to bring together leaders in Earth science from both industry and academia.  The Rice Earth science department is one of the world’s leading innovators of generating new frameworks for understanding whole Earth system dynamics.  Rice Earth Science, in partnership with industry and private enterprise, will serve as a global think tank to advance our understanding of earth, planetary and environmental systems.

For the full program click here:    2017 IRESS Program

IRESS 2017 – 23-24 Feb (schedule)

Continental Margins II – Interdisciplinary perspectives on the making of a passive margin 

This workshop will consist of two parts. The first will be to redefine our understanding of sequence stratigraphy in the context of contemporary concepts in sedimentary transport, climate, sea level, tectonics, mantle dynamics, and whole Earth system models.  We will highlight key developments in technology and geologic data that have made scientific advances possible.  The second part will consist of understanding the complex interplays between mantle and surface processes on the origin and development of the passive margin basement from the initiation of rifting to the maturation of an ocean basin.  One of the goals of this workshop is to develop a new text, outlining passive margin evolution for the next generation of students and researchers. This will appear as a special issue in the American Journal of Science, edited by Kevin Biddle, Gerald Dickens and Cin-Ty Lee.

Register here to attend (dinner ticket sales end Feb. 19th)


Dinner Keynote

Kirsten Siebach – SUNY Stony Brook

Sedimentary Records from Another World: Exploring Gale Crater Basin with the Curiosity Rover

Symposia lectures

Vitor Abreu – Rice University

Sequence Stratigraphy: Past, Present and Future

Kevin Bohacs – ExxonMobil

“E pur si muove”— the active role of mud in building passive margins, from turbidites to clinothems

Nick Christie-Blick – Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Is sequence stratigraphy dead?

Roger Buck – Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Formation and Subsidence of Seaward Dipping Reflectors and the Propagation of Volcanic Rifted Margins

Becky Dorsey – University of Oregon

Big Rivers, Sediment Flux, and the Crustal Evolution of Rifted Continental Margins

Blake Dyer – Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Extracting sea level change from carbonate stratigraphy with hidden Markov models

Ken Miller – Rutgers

The role of sea level and mantle dynamic topography on passive-aggressive continental margin architecture

Jerry Mitrovica – Harvard University

The dynamic topography of passive margins

Chris Paola – University of Minnesota

Shanan Peters – University of Wisconsin

Sediment cycling: the long and short of it

Donna Shillington – Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory

Constraints on the temporal and spatial evolution of faulting and magmatism from ancient and active rifts

Manik Talwani – Rice University

The tectonic origin of the Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh: a detective story

IRESS 2018 
Continental Margins IIISource to sink: towards a holistic understanding of Earth history

This workshop will focus on using principles of geochemistry and sedimentology to interpret the stratigraphic record in terms of Earth’s paleo-environmental and biological history.  We will investigate how biogeochemistry and sedimentary process operate and interact from the size of a sand grain to planetary lengthscales and from seconds to billions of years.  We will explore the importance of sedimentary systems in developing and mature passive margins on global cycling of biologically relevant elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorous and various metals.

Poster Session: Farnsworth Pavilion, Rice Memorial Center