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SwRI geoscientists lead structural characterization offshore Newfoundland

September 27, 2021 — Southwest Research Institute completed research characterizing the complex geological evolution of the Orphan Basin, offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, using an extensive database of newly available, modern 2D and 3D broadband seismic reflection data. These data allow geologists to visualize and understand the subsurface.

“By incorporating seismic interpretations of rock structures and layers, along with regional gravity and magnetic data and estimates of crustal thicknesses, we were able to generate structural interpretations of the Earth’s crust,” said SwRI’s Dr. Adam Cawood, who led the research and is lead author of two recent papers. “Integrating multiple datasets is critical for understanding complex structural development in frontier oil and gas exploration regions.”

The Orphan Basin and Flemish Pass region on the Newfoundland continental margin is a frontier area for oil and gas exploration. The region has historically  been poorly understood in terms of structural and tectonic evolution, with few exploration wells and, until recently, sparse seismic data coverage.

“We characterized the region using 2D and 3D seismic data, interpreting structural geometries and basin evolution through time. These analyses provide the context for upcoming assessments of location and distribution of source rock, reservoir and seal strata for exploration in the area,” said SwRI’s Dr. David Ferrill, who co-authored the papers.

“By using defined protocols for cross-section construction and restoration, we tested multiple scenarios, generating robust models for the geologic evolution of the Orphan Basin, Flemish Pass and Flemish Cap region,” Cawood said. “By doing this, we can better understand the tectonic evolution and related sediment accumulation during the formation of the North Atlantic, as the supercontinent of Pangea broke up and land masses drifted apart. These results are important for interpreting the oil and gas potential in this frontier area.”

Cawood is presenting on the “Tectonostratigraphic Evolution of the Orphan Basin, Offshore Newfoundland: Results from Coupled Structural Restoration and Crustal Area Balancing” Wednesday, September 29, at the International Meeting for Applied Geoscience & Energy (SEG/AAPG IMAGE) in Denver. This presentation will summarize the results from two companion papers recently published by SwRI staff in collaboration with the Oil and Gas Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Access the two papers at: and

For more information, visit Structural Geology & Geomechanics or contact Deb Schmid, +1 210 522 2254, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.