N062 Modern Carbonate Depositional Systems (Belize)

Course Facts

Course Code:
6 days
Physical Demand:
4.8 Continuing Education Units
48 Professional Development Hours
Certificate Issued Upon Completion


Carbonate systems are complex and variable, which makes their exploration and exploitation challenging, with unexpected surprises. Understanding the controls and characteristics of carbonate depositional systems and their early diagenesis helps to create predictable models. The Belize barrier reef system (comprising lagoon, reef-rimmed shelf margin and large atolls) is an excellent modern analogue for the exploration and exploitation of many subsurface carbonate reservoirs.  

Duration and Training Method

Six days of fieldwork in Belize, Central America.

The modern carbonate system will be examined by boat transects, including sampling and snorkeling over specific facies belts representing different depositional conditions. In the evening there will a review of the day’s stops plus comparison to ancient carbonate depositional settings around the world, reservoir development and seismic expression. Participants will be encouraged to bring non-confi dential examples they may be working on.

  1. Sketch the geological structure of Belize in the context of understanding construction of modern carbonate shelf and offshore atolls.
  2. Distinguish the primary sediment and framework producing organisms and their contributions to the carbonate "factory" both areally and volume-wise.
  3. Assess the controls on, distribution of, and interaction between, carbonate and siliciclastic sediments in the lagoonal portion of the system.
  4. Predict the effects of inherited topography on distribution and geometry of barrier reefs, atolls, and patch reefs.
  5. Appraise the influences of wind and wave energy on sediment and, hence, primary porosity distribution in carbonate atolls and barrier systems.
  6. Relate of sediment distribution and sediment body geometries in the modern Belize carbonate system to ancient reservoir systems.
  7. Compare the scale and facies distribution in reef-lagoon-atoll systems and use this information to produce improved interpretations of subsurface data.

Carbonate systems are complex and variable, this makes the exploration and exploitation of carbonate reservoirs challenging with unexpected surprises. An understanding of the controls and characteristics of carbonate depositional systems and their early diagenesis can create a predictable model. There is perhaps no better place to study these concepts than on the Belize barrier reef system, the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. This region is an excellent actualistic modern analog for the exploration and exploitation of many carbonate reservoirs in the subsurface.

Important concepts that this field seminar will convey are:


As we traverse Belize offshore you will gain an appreciation of the size and distribution of carbonate reservoirs.

Facies spatial distribution and primary porosity development

These two attributes are inextricably linked. Facies dictate the primary sediment texture which is a major control on spatial distribution of porosity and permeability in carbonate reservoirs.

Development of actualistic models

Understanding the controls on the facies distribution with carbonate depositional systems will allow us to deal with the variability of reservoirs through time and space, with comparisons to reservoirs worldwide.

Seismic expression and imaging

Examples and comparisons of seismic characteristics of a variety of different carbonate depositional settings from North America and worldwide will be presented.

This trip begins and ends in Belize City and visits the atolls and rimmed carbonate shelf. While on the barrier, we will stay in Tobacco Cay and study the barrier crest, atolls, lagoon, rhomboid shoals patch reefs, conduct a transect of the lagoon and make an overflight of the region.

The itinerary provided below is provisional and must be flexible depending on the weather. The trip will involve many hours boating and snorkelling. We insist that people are physically fit and comfortable in open water conditions.

Provisonal Itinerary

Day 0

Arrive Pelican Beach Resort, Dangriga - Intro lecture after sunset.

Day 1

Snorkel practice and equipment check at Pelican Beach. Travel to South Stann Creek to examine shoreline carbonate-clastic interaction. Travel to South Water Caye.

Day 2

Tobacco Caye Lagoon/ South Water Caye / Carrie Bow Caye: fore reef, reef crest, reef flat & lagoon facies.

Day 3

Turneffe Reef: Isolated Carbonate Bank, low energy depositional setting, mangrove lagoon and low energy reef margin settings.


Day 4

Glovers Reef: Isolated Carbonate Bank, high energy depositional setting, patch reefs and high energy reef margin settings.

Day 5

Rhomboid Shoals and patch reefs, fluvial systems, reef initiation and growth. Gladden Spit.

Day 6

Overflight of the field seminar’s stops along the Barrier Reef, Glovers, Turneffe and Lighthouse reefs - from Dangriga International then return direct to Belize City-Houston

While on the water sediment sampling with a grabber (mechanical and human) will be taken, where a sediment corer can be used samples will also be taken.

Accommodation is 2 star on South Water. Food is basic.

Who should attend

This course is designed for the geoscience professional with a minimum of 3-5 years petroleum experience and a knowledge of carbonate depositional systems.

Prerequisites and linking courses

There are no prerequisites but participants would benefit from a general understanding of carbonate depositional systems, as provided in N020 (Carbonate Depositional Systems: Reservoir Sedimentology and Diagenesis).

Ancient carbonate field courses in the NTA portfolio are: N059 Applied Carbonate Geology: Carbonate Facies and Reservoirs, Mallorca and Menorca (Miocene) and N091 Carbonate Reservoir Architecture and Applied Carbonate Sequence Stratigraphy, West Texas (Mississippian to Permian). M143 Advanced Concepts in Carbonate Exploration and Reservoir Characterization (Northern Spain) addresses several topics: analogues for Mississippian and Pricaspian reservoirs, karst development and porosity and hydrothermal dolomitization. N186 Complex Carbonate Reservoirs: Influence of Facies and Tectonic Processes on Porosity Development (Southern Italy) focuses on the effects of a contractional regime on a wide range of carbonate rocks.