The Cretaceous Mowry Shale is an organic-rich, siliceous marine shale, and as such is a known source rock in the Western United States. Studies have documented that total organic carbon (TOC) in the Wind River Basin, Wyoming increases to the southeast. These studies cover large areas with limited sample sets. In this study, over 250 samples were collected near Lander, Wyoming to address spatial heterogeneity of TOC within the Mowry Shale at a much finer scale than previously examined. Samples were collected along five vertical sections at three localities, and following correlation of the vertical sections, which was strongly aided by the presence of regional bentonite horizons, samples were collected laterally from the same unit at regular 25-foot intervals. These samples were analyzed using pyrolysis and x-ray diffraction techniques. Average TOC values are fairly consistent within the study area (1.65%, with a range of 2.10% to 1.15%). Average Tmax values for vertical and lateral samples is 433 °C with a standard deviation of 7.25 °C suggesting immature to very early oil window thermal maturity. Kerogen types are determined to be dominantly type III, suggesting a dominance of terrestrial input, becoming slightly more mixed type II/III to the southeast. Redox-sensitive trace metals such as uranium, thorium, vanadium, chromium, cobalt, and molybdenum values all suggest a slightly oxygenated sediment water interface during time of deposition. These pyrolysis and trace metal data suggest that the study area was in a prograding proximal marine/prodeltaic depositional environment during Upper Mowry time with influences from higher energy bottom flows. Lateral homogeneity of strata and the low variability in geochemical character across the study area suggest that the local basin in the study area was not segmented by structural or oceanographic conditions. While efforts were made to collect unaltered outcrop samples (digging back into what appeared to be unfractured, unaltered rock), alteration or weathering of organic material is a concern for source rock evaluation of near-surface outcrops. In order to address this concern, a 5-foot-deep trench was dug back into the outcrop at the target horizon in one locality. Samples were taken at regular three-inch intervals from this trench as it was excavated to determine the effect of weathering on TOC in the study area. Based on pyrolysis results, TOC was affected by weathering only along fracture sets (several samples intersected fractures in the shallow subsurface) and did not appreciably increase from the surface to a depth of five feet. Due to the impermeable nature of shale rock, decreases of TOC due to weathering appear to be limited to the immediate surface of samples and along fracture sets.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Mowry Shale, total organic carbon, pyrolysis, kerogen type, thermal maturity, weathering effects, outcrop samples, Western Cretaceous Interior Seaway, trace metals, Wind River Basin, prodeltaic, proximal marine, Wyoming



Included in

Geology Commons