The Albian-Cenomanian Nanushuk Formation located on the North Slope of Alaska is the result of fluvial, deltaic, and shoreface processes and has been the focus of recent petroleum exploration activity in the Colville Basin. The Nanushuk and underlying Torok formations together contain an estimated 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves within the resource-rich North Slope. The Nanushuk Formation is composed of sediment sourced from the Chukotka Peninsula to the west and deposited axially within the Colville Basin. High sedimentation rates led to rapid progradation of shoreface and deltaic systems, which effectively filled the entire basin during the Cretaceous. Resulting in a thick stratigraphic succession of marginal to deep marine sandstones and mudstones. However, considerable facies variation within the basin has led to a previous lack of understanding of the spatial distribution of depositional elements. Integration of outcrop photogrammetry, detailed measured sections, core interpretations, hand samples, and thin section microscopy from the Colville Basin in this study reveal the distribution of litho- and depo-facies within the Nanushuk Formation. Three key outcrop locales along the northern flank of the Brooks Range expose ~200 to ~1000 feet of mudstone, silty sandstone, and sandstone that record the transition from distal shoreface sedimentation to deltaic and fluvial processes over time. Progradationally-stacked parasequences are clearly identifiable in both outcrop and core, recording rapid axial progradation to the east. While shoreface processes do exist in the Nanushuk, outcrop observations show a dominance of deltaic processes, consistent with the highly progradational nature of the strata. Further, there is a trend towards more fluvially-dominated deltaic processes in the more axial part of the Colville syncline, as shown by core, compared to more wave-dominated deltaic facies associations along the margins of the axial basin where outcrops were described. These trends, both vertically and spatially, have important implications for understanding the geologic evolution of the formation and for targeting areas for further exploration within this evolving hydrocarbon play.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Facies, Architecture, Nanushuk Formation, North Slope, Shoreface, Delta, Fluvial, Stacking Patterns