Field Trip: Caprock Club goes to South Australia's Outback!

Blog Post created by rkernen on May 5, 2017

There is something so indescribably satisfying about flying to the other side of the world to do your research.  This is my seventh and final trip to Australia (for now!).  I must collect every piece of data I can possibly think of so I can finish my PhD in geology.  The pressure is on…but in the best way possible because failure is not an option.  I thrive under this type of pressure and feel as though I was born to travel and do field research for petroleum exploration companies. 


This trip is different-I’m traveling with only one master’s student, Piper and it’s her first time to Australia.  I love bringing new students with me…I get to experience Australia for the first time through their eyes.  Piper is special, she has an amazing ability to look at rocks and immediately know their geochemical origin and evolution.  She is literally a walking chemistry lab.  Piper is specializing in understanding the origin of ‘caprock,’ a rock associated with salt bodies, derived from the chemical alteration of salt residues. Caprock is found along the gulf coast of the United States, which is often associated with salt dome mines and shelfal oil production.  For oil exploration, understanding the timing and the geochemical processes related to the formation of caprock is essential – yet few studies to date have been completed to focus on these complex processes.


It is our belief that ancient caprock is located in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia.  The caprock in Australia is significantly older than what is find along the gulf coast…potentially 500 million years older and formed when the Earth as we know today looked very different.  Our advisor, Dr. Katherine Giles, has been researching and collecting caprock data for the past 8 years or so and it’s our goal to finish collecting the data and refine a geological model that she first presented at the 2012 American Association of Petroleum Geologists annual meeting. 


Why caprock? Caprock forms at the top of a salt body as salt dissolves as the product of the salt’s chemically altered residue. Typical caprock assemblages consist of a vertically zoned sequence of gypsum, anhydrite, limestone, and/or dolomite that display outcrop fabrics and petrophysical textures that are as complex as their geochemical evolution.  As a result, caprock can be very difficult to understand and interpret in the field and often goes unrecognized on offshore seismic data prior to drilling a well – which can have huge consequences for the success of a drilling project. Our small research group ‘Caprock Club’ has come to the point where we feel confident in our geological model interpretation and we will be publishing the results in The Australian Journal of Earth Sciences (AJES).  The Flinders Ranges has been nominated for a World Heritage site and it is our goal that by publishing our research results in the AJES it will help emphasize the scientific importance and demonstrate the need to preserve the land for future generations to explore.


Continue to follow our adventure through Pink Petro and other social media outlets over the next month as we take on the Outback as a fearless duo!