Skip to main content

Skip to navigation

Departments & Programs



The Stanford Project on Deep-water Depositional Systems (SPODDS) is a research program in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University focused on the study of ancient and modern deep-water deposits and depositional systems around the world. Affiliate members of this industrial consortium include numerous international energy companies that seek greater understanding of deep-water deposits as reservoirs for oil and gas.

Redox depositional environments of unconventional targets

It has long been known that black shales (i.e., the targets in unconventional systems) were deposited under dysoxic to anoxic conditions. In the modern ocean, essentially all anoxic environments are characterized by the presence of free sulfide (euxinia), and this model has been explicitly or implicitly applied to most ancient shales. Recently, it has been recognized that many black shales were deposited under ferruginous (free ferrous iron) conditions. This fundamental feature of depositional redox state likely influences many parameters in the rock that are ultimately important for production, but these links have yet to be elucidated. The Sperling research group is conducting detailed case studies of selected unconventional targets to provide the most nuanced view possible of the depositional environments of these units. These studies comprise an integrated analysis of sedimentology, stratigraphy, and multi-proxy geochemistry (iron speciation chemistry, trace metals, organic carbon contents and isotopes, and pyrite sulfur isotopes). Studies are currently ongoing in the Exshaw/Patry, Horn River Group, Montney Formation, Wolfcamp Formation, Cline Shale, Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford Shale, Bakken Formation, Marcellus Shale, and Utica Shale. 

Margin of the Wildcat Channel Complex outcropping on the eastern side of Sierra

Magallanes Basin, Chile

The Magallanes Basin in southern Chile was formed in the Jurassic through continental rifting and was subsequently closed and filled in a retroarc foreland setting from the Early Cretaceous to the middle Tertiary. The major deep-water phase lasted from Early Cretaceous to Late Cretaceous and involved deposition of over 5000 meters of siliciclastic rocks belonging to the Punta Barrosa (Lower-Upper Cretaceous), Cerro Toro (Upper Cretaceous), and Tres Pasos (Upper Cretaceous-Tertiary) Formations. The general geology and sedimentology of the Magallanes Basin sequence was studied in the 1960's and 1970's (e.g. Winn and Dott, 1977, 1979). SPODDS research in the basin was initiated in 1999 and has continued to the present...

Coastal outcrop of the upper-slope Waiau Channel, part of the upper Mioce

Taranaki Basin, New Zealand

Outcrops along the north Taranaki coast, North Island, New Zealand provide an opportunity to examine a variety of deep-water deposits. The lateral continuity of the exposures and slight tilting of the strata provide a nearly continuous sequence of many kilometers of vertical stratigraphy exposed along tens of kilometers of coast. Outcrops include the volcaniclastic Mohakatino Formation, the sandstone Mount Messenger Formation, and the siltstone-dominated slope deposits and sandstone and conglomerate filled slope channels of the Urenui and Kiore formations...

Outcrop of Hikuwai Sandstone in Tolaga Bay, NZ

East Coast Basin, New Zealand

The Raukumara Peninsula, North Island, New Zealand is the northernmost area of the East Coast Basin and contains numerous deep-water sequences deposited within an active forearc basin beginning in the Early Miocene. Cliff outcrops along the coast enable evolutional and architectural studies of deep-water systems, and provide useful analogies for forearc and piggy-back basin deposition. The East Coast Basin is part of an active petroleum system although has never been substantially developed. Recent interest has prompted an extensive 2D seismic survey by Crown Minerals, vastly improving the formerly spotty data set of the region...

A slurry bed from the Jackfork Formation, Ouachita Basin.

Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas and Oklahoma

The Ouachita Trough was a predominantly fine-grained, quartz-rich, continent-sourced depositional basin along the southern margin of the North American Craton that evolved from a sediment-starved passive continental margin from the Cambrian to the Mississippian. Subsequent closing of the basin, initiated in the Mississippian, formed an elongate, narrow foredeep and orogenic highlands to the south (Mississippian-Pennsylvanian).

Outcrops in the San Joaquin Basin.

San Joaquin Basin, California

Larisa Masalimova's research will focus on the sedimentary mechanics, depositional setting, mud properties and content of the slurry flows of the Monterey Formation of the San Joaquin Basin. The research on slurry flow formation, evolution and deposition will be documented through integration of borehole images, thin section study, and geochemical analysis. Reservoir architecture and depositional setting will be determined using well logs and seismic data. This study will be beneficial for oil exploration, as it will document reservoir quality (porosity, permeability) and predict the occurrence and lithological changes of the slurry beds as potential reservoirs for hydrocarbons...

Ventura Basin, California

Jon Rotzien (PhD 2013) worked on the sedimentology and stratigraphy of the braided lobe complexes of the Pliocene Repetto and Pico Formations from the Ventura Basin. His work was published in the Journal of Sedimentary Research.
Rotzien, J.; Lowe, DR; and Schwalbach, JR.
Processes of sedimentation and stratigraphic architecture of deep-water braided lobe complexes: The Pliocene Repetto and Pico Formations, Ventura Basin, USA

Map view of submarine gullies imaged on a slope clinoform in the Giant Foresets

Taranaki Basin, New Zealand

Lauren Shumaker (PhD 2016) is investigating upper slope sediment transport by tracking the
evolution of submarine gullies in the Pliocene Giant Foresets Formation, using
two overlapping 3D seismic datasets. 
Glenn Sharman (PhD 2014) and Lauren Shumaker used offshore 2D and 3D seismic near
the Taranaki Coast to augment understanding of the stratigraphic relationships
of the Mohakatino Formation, and associated North Awakino MTD, with adjacent

RMS amplitude extractions from the top and middle of overbank deposits in the Pu

Molasse Basin, Austria

The Oligocene to Early Miocene Molasse Basin in Austria was developed between the Alpine fold and thrust belt to the south and the Bohemian massif to the north. Channels ran along the axis of the narrow basin and were fed sediment derived mainly from large deltaic systems to the west and partially from the Alpine thrust front to the south. Smaller intraslope basins were developed along this front and some of the major sand reservoirs in the basin are intraslope basins located on this structurally complex southern slope, as studied by Jake Covault (2008). Stratigraphic and structural traps in the main channel complex also contain significant amounts of natural gas...

Maps comparing lowstand versus highstand sediment routing patterns for southern

California Borderland

Recent to modern submarine fan systems offer unique insights into the processes of sandy deep-water sedimentation. Analysis of modern systems provides turbidite researchers a glimpse of sea-floor morphology as well as timing and distribution of sediment gravity flow deposits. Factors that influence deep-water sedimentation, such as (1) basin setting, (2) source-to-basin sediment dispersal, (3) source area composition, (4) structural/tectonic activity, (5) sea level stands, and (6) climatic fluctuations, are relatively well-known for Holocene systems (last 11,000 years) and, thus, provide a contextual framework for understanding controls on deep-water sedimentation...