All-Russia Geological Institute for Geology and
Mineral Resources of World Ocean (VNIIO),
St. Petersburg, Russia
All-Russia Geological Institute for Geology and Mineral Resources of World Ocean (VNIIO), St. Petersburg, Russia
This study of the Laptevs, East Siberian,
and Chukchi sea shelves concentrates mainly on the specific structure of
the sedimentary cover and briefly discusses age and structure of the
basement. An elaboration of the tectonic model for the entire Russian
eastern Arctic shelf is accompanied by discussions of the existing views
on problems which have been hampered by absence of deep offshore wells.
The most relevant information was obtained from deep seismic profiling,
which provides data on thicknesses and unconformities within the
sedimentary cover, tectonic structures, and structure of the basement
surface. But without well control the age and nature of the basement and
sedimentary cover remain thus far, speculative and will have to be
verified by future research activities.
The Laptevs, East
Siberian, and Chukchi Sea shelves (Fig. 1) and their transition to deep
water basins are still in a very early stage of geological exploration.
All existing bathymetric, magnetic, gravimetric and geologic data,
including shallow wells in the New Siberian Islands area and deep wells
in the U.S. sector of the Chukchi Sea shelf, were recently summarized in
the process of compiling the State Geological Map of the Russian
Federation at a scale of 1:1,000,000. The work was carried out by the
Geological Map Division of the All Russian Scientific Research Institute
for Geology and Mineral Resources of the Worlds Oceans (VNIIOkeangeologia)
during the last 7 years and includes a special geologic map index that
unifies the entire offshore area. The level of earth science exploration
varies drastically from one area to another, and even in the relatively
better studied parts it remains insufficient for unambiguous
characterization of geological structure and history, especially in
places where subbottom geology is imaged exclusively on the basis of
geophysical evidence and cannot be reliably correlated with island
This paper is based mainly on the State
Geological Map at a scale of 1:1,000,000, every sheet of which presents
a separate geoinformational system (GIS) layer. All existing
bathymetric, magnetic, gravimetric and geologic data, including shallow
wells in the New Siberian Islands area and deep wells in the U.S. sector
of the Chukchi Sea shelf, were used to construct maps sheets. A set of
maps consists of tectonic, deepstructural, bedrock, Quaternary and
bottom sediment, and geomorphologic maps. Onshore portions of the
digitized database come from geological mapping of the eastern Arctic
mainland and islands by the Russian Geological Survey in the middle of
the last century. Geological investigations of the offshore area are
rather poor. They include bottom sampling, piston cores and rare shallow
seismic profiles. Although several shallow boreholes were collected
around the New Siberian Islands and exploration wells were drilled on
the U.S. Alaska Shelf, the major source of offshore information used in
this study is from various geophysical methods of investigations by the
Marine Arctic Geological Enterprise (MAGE)
of Murmansk (Sekretov, 1998;
1999a; 1999b; 1999c),
Laboratory of Regional Geodynamics (LARGE) from Moscow (Drachev et al.,
1998), and joint research efforts by the oil company
“Sevmorneftegeofizika” of Murmansk and the Geological Institute BGR of
Hannover, Germany (Roeser et al., 1995; Hinz et
al., 1998; Franke et a.l, 1999), and by the oil company
“Dalmorneftegeofizika” of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia and Halliburton
STRATIGRAPHY OF THE
Two large provinces are
distinguished on the Russian eastern Arctic Shelf. These two provinces
in the western Chukchi and East-Siberian seas are generally underlain by
basement of either late Mesozoic or Caledonian age. The boundary between
these is complex in some areas, with the former overprinting the latter,
but can generally be traced from Cape Lisburne in western Alaska,
northwest along the northern margin of the Herald Arch to 100-150 km
north of Wrangel Island, and on across the East-Siberian Sea to
Vil`kistsky Island, southwest of the De-Long Archipelago.
These provinces are
generally characterized by unique sedimentary cover with distinct
stratigraphic ages and are traced using seismic reflection data and
borehole sections from northern Alaska and the Chukchi Shelf where
American investigators (Grantz et al., 1975;
1982; and 1990 and Thurston and Theiss, 1987) identified two
major types of sedimentary cover with good confidence. They divide
sedimentary cover into 2 main sequences, the Ellesmerian and Brookian,
separated by the regional Lower Cretaceous unconformity (LCU) at the
base of the Barremian Stage. Later researchers have distinguished a
third sequence in the U.S. Chukchi Sea—the Rift Sequence (Sherwood
et al., 2004) which we have not mapped but may be equivalent
in part to our J-K1h sequence in Figure 3. This sequence underlies the Brookian and
represents the initial stage of opening of the Canada Basin. The second
major sequence is the Late Devonian to Early Cretaceous Ellesmerian
Sequence, which is generally found in the province with Caledonian
basement and had source rocks located to the north in the area of the
present day Arctic Ocean. The Early Cretaceous to Cenozoic Brookian
Sequence sediments are distributed in both provinces, covering the
Ellesmerian Sequence in one, and in the other, covering late Mesozoic
folded basement rocks and comprising the whole volume of the sedimentary
Ellesmerian Sequence strata can be
distinguished on seismic records in the North Chukchi basin, where their
thickness reaches 7-8 km, and where the total thickness of the
sedimentary cover is no less than 20 km. Grantz et al. (1975
and Grantz et al., 1982) had reported the presence of older,
possibly Franklinian or “Eoellesmerian” Sequence in the North Chukchi
Basin at the base of the Ellesmerian cover but it is not clear what age
they are. We believe his data show lower Ellesmerian Endicott Group
strata in some grabens that may be as thick as 7 km, in the North
Chukchi Basin. Figure 2 shows our interpretation of a seismic profile
collected by “Dalmorneftegeofizika” Enterprise which divides the
sedimentary cover of the North Chukchi depression into 7 seismic units
separated by reflectors Ch-I-VII, and a correlation to the reflectors
mapped by Thurston and Theiss (1987).
Older, basal sedimentary cover exists north of the North Chukchi Basin,
as evidenced from lower Paleozoic rocks dredged on the continental
slope, on the Mendeleev Ridge, and on the steep eastern slope of the
Northwind Escarpment, where a continuous stratigraphic section beginning
with Cambrian rocks was reported by Grantz et al. (1998).
Similar data were obtained by Russian investigators from the southern
part of the Mendeleev Ridge, where they dredged moderately lithified
carbonateterrigenous rocks exhibiting the occurrence of kaolinitic
cement in sandstones, and were
paleontologically dated as Upper Silurian to Lower Permian in age (Kaban’kov
et al., 2001).
On the East-Siberian
shelf, Ellesmerian Sequence strata were recognized on a LARGE seismic
profile (Fig. 3) 170 km east-northeast of New Siberian Island (Drachev
et al., 2001). Here, two reflectors “A” and “B” are
distinguished beneath reflector “B-1” (LCU). The strata between these
reflectors thin and are truncated by reflector B-1 to the north (toward
the De-Long rise), but to the south, they increase to 7 km in thickness.
Besides the increase in thickness, there is an increase in deformation
of the strata, which gradually becomes more intense until it is
manifested as a rather sharp transition to acoustic basement. We believe
this transition of Ellesmerian Sequence to the folded state marks the
boundary between late Mesozoic and Caledonian basement provinces.
On New Siberian Island,
drilling revealed late Mesozoic basement (folded Jurassic terrigenous
rocks) beneath Pliocene–Quaternary sediments. Magnetic anomalies over
New Siberian Island are similar to the anomalies seen from the
cassiterite-bearing granites of Bolshoy Lyahovsky Island. (See Figure 1
Number 8). Placer cassiterite found on New Siberian Island, and grains
of molybdenite and sphalerite in the basal Pliocene layers overlying the
deformed Jurassic rocks suggest the presence of stanniferous granites in
Caledonian basement is
exposed on Henrietta Island (See Figure 1, Number 16) where outcrops of
folded volcanic and clastic rocks, bearing sills, dykes, and sheets of
basalts, andesite-basalts, and porphyritic diorite occur (Vinogradov
et al., 1974). Basalts and porphyritic diorite dated by the
potassium–argon method are 310-450 ma and porphyritic diorite dated
using the argon–argon method are in the 400-440 ma interval. Fragments
of gneissic, granitic, and quartzitic rocks and schists in gritstone of
Henrietta Island are evidence that the Caledonian fold basement zones in
the De-Long rise province include blocks of older consolidation. More
evidence of these older rocks is the presence of flat-lying Cambrian and
Ordovician strata on Benetta Island (See Figure 1, Number 15), but these
lower Paleozoic rocks cannot be correlated to seismic reflection
signatures typical of sedimentary cover on nearby marine profiles.
The Ellesmerian Sequence is divided by American authors (Grantz et al., 1975; 1990 and Thurston and Theiss, 1987) into two parts: the Lower Ellesmerian and the Upper Ellesmerian Sequences, separated by a Permian unconformity (PU) at the base of Upper Permian strata. In the wells drilled on the Alaska coast, the highest stratigraphic interval is the Upper Ellesmerian Sequence, and the “PU” reflector marks the acoustic basement. However, in deep depressions where the “PU” horizon separates subparallel reflectors of the Lower and Upper Ellesmerian sequences, it may be lost. This is what we believe happened on the seismic profile in Thurston and Theiss (1987) Plate 5, published before the wells in the Chukchi Sea were drilled. Within the Ellesmerian Sequence below the Lisburne Group, there is a well expressed reflector identified as an unconformity between Endicott Group (D3-C1) and Lisburne Group (C2-3). On the southern slope of De-Long rise, the presence of Lisburne Group rocks is confirmed by dredge samples that contained fragments of siliceous limestone with C2-3 fauna in Neogene volcanics of Zhokhov Island.
The Brookian Sequence
(Barremian Stage to Cenozoic) is divided by American scientists into
Lower Brookian (K1br-al)
and Upper Brookian (K2-KZ) sequences. In our interpretation, based on
seismic data analysis across the whole eastern Arctic Shelf (from the
Laptevs to Chukchi seas), we propose dividing the stratigraphic section
into Cretaceous (K1br-K2) and Cenozoic parts. The lower sequence is much
thicker and is characterized by numerous plastic and disjunctive
deformations as a result of fragmented topography of the basement
surface. The upper sequence is a continuous but less thick mantle type
deposit. It is seismically transparent and is not disturbed by
It has been previously
argued that the sedimentary cover of the Laptevs shelf ranged in age
from Proterozoic to Cenozoic. However, new multichannel seismic data
collected by the Marine Arctic Geological Expedition (MAGE,
Murmansk, Russia) and by Regional Geodynamic Laboratory (LARGE, Moscow)
reveals that the sedimentary cover on the Laptevs shelf (along Oleneksky
Bay and Buor-Khaya Bay; Fig. 1 numbers 4 and 6) is continuous with that
of the East Siberian shelf described above (Drachev
et al., 1998; Vonogradov and Drachev, 2000;
Gusev et al., 2002). It is composed of Cretaceous to
Cenozoic strata deposited on folded Early Cretaceous and older rocks.
On a seismic profile along
the Khatanga Bay (Fig. 1 number 1) there is a sharp change in the
character of folding at the Late Mesozoic fold front, which can be
traced from the eastern coast of Bolshoi Begichev Island to Tsvetkov
Cape (Fig. 1 numbers 2 and 3) on the southern-eastern coast of the
Taimyr Peninsula (Vinogradov and Drachev, 2000).
Horizontal seismic reflectors, typical for the thick sedimentary cover
of the northern flank of the Siberian Platform are sharply terminated at
this boundary. On the northeastern end of the seismic profile the
reflection character becomes chaotic and looks similar to the acoustic
basement along all the profile. Therefore, it appears that the cover
sequences of the Siberian Platform do not continue beyond Khatanga Bay
in the Laptevs Sea. Rather, the Laptevs Shelf is part of the Mesozoides
of Northeastern Russia. There is still a difference between the west and
central parts of the Laptevs Sea and its eastern part. In the eastern
part the main stage of folding is connected with Early Cretaceous time
because coal-bearing molasse rocks of Aptian-Albian age on Kotel`ny
Island (Fig. 1 number 9) overly folded Paleozoic and Mesozoic formations
with a sharp unconformity. On the central and western part of the
Laptevs Shelf, riftogenous processes were superimposed at the final
stage of the Early Cretaceous deformation resulting in rather weakly
deformed basement rocks being buried under rift formations.
The Late Cretaceous
sedimentary and stratigraphic history of the Laptevs Shelf is
characterized by intense denudation of the area northeast of the Lena
River mouth. This is supported by the presence of erosional products in
Paleocene strata from granite batholiths emplaced at the end of Early
Cretaceous to the beginning of Late Cretaceous in northeast Russia.
Further evidence is deep ersional truncation and weathering crust
reported in the Tiksi Bay area, where Paleocene sediments, including
quartz siltstones, cover the greenshist Verkhoyan suite. Considering the
area of uplift (Figure 4-I; and number 6), and assuming a depth of
emplacement of granitic intrusives of 3 km or less, a volume of eroded
rocks over Northeast Russia during Late Cretaceous time, may be up to
6.5 million km3. On the adjacent shelf, continental slope and
deep Eurasian Basin, nearly 7.5 million km3 of sediments were
A quiescent stage set in
between the Mesozoic and Cenozoic manifested by Paleocene peneplain
facies in the areas of Tiksi Bay, Yano-Indigirskaya lowland, and New
Siberian Islands. On seismic records this boundary is expressed by a
high contrast reflection representing a regional unconformity between
Upper Cretaceous strata. These strata exhibit numerous reflectors that
show syndepositional deformation, filling rift grabens, and they are
overlain by continuous seismically “transparent” Paleocene strata.
In the North Chukchi
Basin, Upper Cretaceous strata with widely spread clinoforms attain the
importance an independent sequence (Upper Brookian Sequence), separated
from Barremian–Albian rocks by a sharp angular unconformity (Thurston
and Theiss, 1987, Plate 7).
The structure of the
sedimentary cover of the eastern Arctic shelf of Russia is generally an
assemblage of large basins and rises that separate zones of persistent
depressions such as the Laptev basin (Fig. 4, I), New Siberian System of
horsts and grabens (Fig. 4, II), Chukchi-East Siberian basin (Fig. 4
IV), De-Long rise (Fig. 4, III), and a series of perioceanic depressions
along the Shelf margin (Fig. 4, V).
The Laptev Basin (Fig. 4,
I) occupies the central and western parts of the Laptevs Sea. It is
about 400 km wide at its northern end near the continental slope, and is
less than 100 km wide to the south-southeast in the Buor-Khaya Bay area.
On the south and west, the Laptev Basin is bounded by mountainous,
folded Mesozoides, and on the east by the Lazarev fault that separates
the basin from the New Siberian System of horsts and grabens. The
internal structure of the Laptev basin is rather complex due to numerous
faults, uplifts and troughs. Sedimentary strata reach thicknesses of
10-12 km in troughs and thin to 5-6 km over horsts.
The New Siberian System of
horsts and grabens extends from the continent to the shelf margin
between the Laptev and Chukchi-East Siberian basins. It is 600 km wide
in the south and about 400 km in the north. Overall, it is an uplifted
province with reduced and discontinuous sedimentary cover, except in
Novosibirsky and Anisinsky grabens, where sedimentary cover is thickest
(Fig. 4, numbers 1 and 2). The structural expression of the western and
the eastern slopes of the New Siberian System are dissimilar with the
western slope being highly dissected by horsts and grabens and the
eastern slope rather gentle with sparse grabens. The axial zone of the
New Siberian System, can be regarded as a submeridional horst that is a
direct continuation of the Lomonosov Ridge basement is exposed along it
length. The western slope of the Lomonosov Ridge is also dissected by
numerous horst and grabens, and the eastern slope is relatively gentle
with rare grabens. This resemblance between the New Siberian System and
Lomonosov Ridge suggests that they are part of a transregional positive
tectonic feature that trends from the continent, through the shelf, to
the Arctic Ocean basin. The axial zone of this transregional feature is
traced further on land in the Yano-Indigirskaya lowland as a series of
basement protrusions, including several granite massifs of Cretaceous
age collectively named the Chokhchuro-Chekurdakhsky row. (Fig. 4, number
Basin is the largest structural province of the eastern Arctic shelf
(Fig. 4, IV). It extends in latitudinal direction over 1300 km, widening
from 450 km in the west to 900 km in the east (in the U.S. Chukchi Sea).
From the west, the basin is bounded by the New Siberian System of horsts
and grabens, from the north by De-Long Rise, from the south by
mountainous Mesozoides of North-East Russia. The coastal lowlands are
part of the southern flank of the basin. To the east in Alaska, the
basin is bounded on the south by the Herald Arch, Lisburne Hills, and
Brooks Range and in the north – by the Barrow Arch.
The basin can be divided
into northern and southern parts based on basement age. The northern
province is underlain by Caledonian basement, the southern province by
late Mesozoic basement. The provinces are separated by large high–angle
faults. In the northern province on northeast Russia shelf, two deep
depressions–Zhokhovsky (Fig. 4 number 3) and North-Chukchi (Fig. 4
numbers 5)-are separated approximately along 174 degree west longitude
by the Jannetsky transverse uplift (Fig. 4 number 3a).
The Zhokhovsky depression
extends for 600 km from the east, where it is 200 km wide, to the west
where it gradually narrows and disappears in the boundary zone between
the New Siberian System of horsts and grabens and De-Long Rise. Upper
Paleozoic–Cenozoic strata in the axial zone of the depression reach
10-12 km in thickness.
The North-Chukchi Basin
within the Russian shelf is also traced for 600 km and its width varies
from 250 km on the east to 160 km on the northwest (Fig. 4 number 5).
This basin is notable for its great sedimentary thickness. On seismic
records, acoustic basement is reliably recognized at the depth of 18 km
(Fig. 3). It has an asymmetrical structure with its southern flank
dipping steeper than its northern flank. The northern flank and axis of
the basin is crossed by the transverse Andrianovsky uplift along the
170º meridian (Fig. 4 number 5a). The uplift has up to 3000 m of relief
at the level of the Barremian-Albian strata (LCU), but has practically
no expression on the top of the Upper Cretaceous strata (mBU). Twenty to
twenty five kilometers north, the axial zone of the North Chukchi basin
shifts to younger strata.
The North-Chukchi basin is
dissected by sublatitudinal and younger submeridional faults.
Sublatitudinal faults often bound half grabens on the southern flank of
the basin. Submeridional faults offset Upper Cretaceous rocks and bound
grabens and horsts, which sea floor expression. In the north, the basin
is bounded by the arch-like North Chukchi rise (Fig.4 number 4), which
extends west-northwest for 500 km and varies from 50 to 75 km in width.
To the northwest, the North Chukchi rise conjugates with the
southeastern flank of De-Long rise (Fig. 4, III), and on east-southeast
probably with the Barrow Arch. Stratigraphic thickness over the North
Chukchi rise is estimated at 6-7 km.
The southern part of the
Chukchi-East-Siberian basin (Fig. 4, IV) differs from its northern part
by the presence of predominantly submeridional structural trends
inherited from the late Mesozoic basement. Features with sublatitudinal
strike, typical of the northern part, are partly preserved only on the
Chukchi Shelf, such as the Herald Arch (Fig. 4 number 14) with thin
sedimentary cover and basement projections (Wrangel Island; Fig.1 number
20), and the South Chukchi depression (Fig. 4 number 15) with up to 4-6
km of overlying Cretaceous-Cenozoic strata.
Over most of the
East-Siberian shelf the structural trend is predominantly submeridional
with symmetrical features. The axial zone of the structural assemblage
is characterized by the Melvillian graben (Fig. 4 number 8), where
Aptian-Cenozoic strata reach 10 km in thickness. This graben structure
is actually a zone of extension, flanked by uplifts of the Chukchi and
East-Chersky (Fig. 4 numbers 7 and 9), and then flanked again by
subsidence features of the South-Denbarsky and Ambarchiksky garbens
(Fig. 4 numbers 6 and 10). The basement fault zones, responsible for
origin of these structures extend to the north, dissecting Zhokhov
depression and De-Long rise. It is very likely that submerged parts of
the East-Siberian shelf have riftogenous nature, similar to the Laptev
The De-Long rise has a
block-like round-to-triangular form (Fig. 4, III), elongated in a
west-northwest direction for 800 km. It is 400 km wide in the west and
narrows to the east to 150 km. For the most part it is covered by thin
(less than 1 km) Cretaceous-Cenozoic mantle type deposits with several
projections of Caledonian and probably older basement. On the slopes of
De-Long rise the cover is 3-4 km thick, underlain by Mesozoic and
Paleozoic strata. The rise is dissected by faults, and bounded grabens
We draw four main
conclusions on the age and structure of the sedimentary cover of the
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