PGS: Evolution of the Beaufort Sea

The October 16, 2014 meeting of the Potomac Geophysical Society will be held October 16 at the Fort Myer Officers’ Club in Arlington, VA ( in the Glassed-in room in the Fife and Drum (main dining room).

Seismic Evidence for the Geologic Evolution of the Alaska Beaufort Sea and Adjacent Canada Basin

Dave Houseknecht, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia

Integration of 2-D reflection seismic, gravity, and sparse exploration well data from the offshore Alaska Beaufort shelf and slope provides new perspectives on the dynamic tectonic evolution of this Arctic margin. The Beaufort shelf is considered a rift shoulder that developed during Jurassic to Early Cretaceous opening of the Canada Basin, and previous work considered much of the pre-Cretaceous stratigraphy to have been eroded beneath the breakup unconformity. However, reprocessed and newly collected seismic data demonstrate the presence of highly attenuated crust and Jurassic to Lowermost Cretaceous syn-rift strata beneath much of the shelf. Moreover, older strata are present beneath the syn-rift succession, and these include Upper Paleozoic and perhaps Triassic strata, the latter of which may include oil-prone source rocks.

The north-vergent front of the Brooks Range thrust belt is extant beneath the eastern Beaufort shelf, and forms a tectonic wedge and syntectonic wedge-top basin system active since the Paleocene. Upper Paleozoic to Cretaceous strata are deformed by thrust faults and folds within this wedge, and reconstruction of syn-rift extension is difficult as a result. Paleocene through Pliocene strata display a spectrum of growth geometry beneath the shelf and slope, a reflection of syntectonic wedge-top deposition.

This ongoing research contributes to a better understanding of the tectonic evolution of the Alaska Arctic margin, and of the petroleum potential of the region. The results are being used to inform policy makers regarding a disputed maritime boundary between the U.S. and Canada, as well as potential extended continental shelf claims under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Dave Houseknecht is a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with a focus on basin analysis, geological controls of petroleum resource distribution, and petroleum resource assessment. This work is mainly concentrated in Arctic Alaska and adjacent Arctic regions. He frequently represents the USGS scientific perspective on petroleum resources in ANWR, NPRA, and other areas of Alaska and the global Arctic to the Administration and Congress. Dave joined the USGS in 1992, serving as Energy Program Manager through 1998 and then moving to a research position. Previously, Houseknecht was a professor of geology at the University of Missouri (1978-1992) and consultant to the oil industry (1981-1992), working on domestic and international projects. He received geology degrees from Penn State University (Ph.D. 1978, B.S. 1973) and Southern Illinois University (M.S. 1975).

Gate, open 24 hours a day ( Reservations are not necessary, however, we need a head count, so, if you wish to attend dinner ($25), please inform Bob Fraser at 540-888-3001 or via E-mail at If you wish, please feel free to attend the talk without dinner. Non-members and guests are welcome. Visit the PGS web site at for new meeting announcements, etc. Please send changes of address or email to


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