Global Plate Tectonic Modelling

Dirk Cuthbertson from Getech shares some insights from their global plate tectonic model, part of Globe, Getech’s flagship new ventures platform.
This article appeared in Vol. 11, No. 6 - 2015


Constrained By Data 

Well and seismic data can be very sparse in frontier regions; however Getech’s extensive global gravity and magnetic database, the largest commercially available dataset of its kind, covers almost all the sedimentary basins of the world. It is a superb resource for mapping the structural framework of the world, which helps us to better constrain our global plate tectonic model. 

An example of a Getech plate scale structural interpretation. Our Trident satellite gravity data, derived from stacking three independent solutions of re-processed altimeter data from the ERS-1 and Geosat satellites, covers all of the ice-free continental shelves of the world with a minimum wavelength resolution of around 10 km. We are currently halfway through a three-year project to incorporate additional altimeter data from the CryoSat-2, Jason-1 and HY-2A satellites, which will generate a more accurate, reliable and coherent solution, particularly near coastlines. 

The continental regions of the world are covered by both gravity and magnetic data from Getech’s many continental-scale compilations, supplemented for many countries by higher resolution data including, for example, Tanzania, Mexico, Mongolia, the onshore US and eastern Europe. These datasets provide both detail at the block scale and insights into the regional context. The emergence of international unconventional hydrocarbon plays has also expanded the scope for using these data. 

Published literature is a great resource for ideas, data and maps. Comparing published maps against our gravity and magnetic interpretations can often expose complexities and what appear to be relatively small inaccuracies, both of which have a big impact on our plate tectonic models. 

We also incorporate other data to help constrain our plate modelling, including: published seismic and geological cross-sections, magnetic picks, well and outcrop data, digital elevation models, Landsat imagery, geological maps and apatite fission track data. 

Two Examples from Getech's Globe global plate tectonic model

Box 1
Box 2

Uses of Plate Models 

How do plate tectonic models help develop an exploration programme? 

Firstly, a better understanding of the relative and temporal juxtaposition of hinterland elements to play elements within sedimentary basins can reveal new insights into their prospectivity. If your play models rely on, say, a granitic source for reservoir sediments during a particular stratigraphic stage, then our plate model can tell you if that is likely. 

Secondly, rotating your data from their Present Day locations back in time can help you understand the palaeogeographic context of your exploration acreage. With Globe, Getech’s flagship new ventures platform, we take this a little further. Our global plate model is the foundation for a series of 59 palaeogeographic maps and palaeolandscape models, one for each stratigraphic stage back to the Permian, one of which is shown below. These are used to generate palaeoclimatic, palaeoceanographic and palaeotidal models for each timeslice, each revealing new insights into the distribution, quality and preservation of the various elements of any petroleum system. 


If well constrained by data, a global tectonic plate model can be built which takes account of small scale tectonic issues whilst ensuring that the integrity of the entire plate circuit is not compromised. This plate model then becomes a fundamental exploration tool, enabling a better understanding of hydrocarbon prospectivity by revealing the regional geological context for any element of the petroleum systems of a sedimentary basin. 

With thanks to

Many of my colleagues have contributed to the many years of effort which I have briefly summarised. Particular thanks go to Simon Campbell, Ben Franklin, Nicky Henshaw, Catherine Hill, Paul Markwick, Sheona Masterton, Stanislaw Mazur, David Sagi, Matthew Stewart, Peter Webb and Kerri Wilson. 

An example of one of the 59 palaeogeographic maps and palaeolandscape models from Getech.


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