Reactive transport modeling of brine reflux: dolomitization, anhydrite precipitation, and porosity evolution

A. Al-Helal, FF Whitaker, Y. Xiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Both geothermal convection and brine reflux drive circulation of sea-waterderived fluids through carbonate platforms during early burial, but dynamic interactions between heat and solute transport and resulting diagenesis are at present poorly understood. This paper describes high-resolution reactive transport model (RTM) simulations that suggest that reflux of 85 ppt brines rapidly restricts geothermal convection to the platform margin, with flow focussed in the more permeable shallow carbonates. In a baseline simulation, involving an elongate, 25-km-wide grain-dominated packstone platform, brine reflux resulted in complete dolomitization beneath the 5-km-wide brine pool in 335 ky. The dolomite body then extends downward at c. 22 m/100 ky into an underlying broad area of partial dolomitization. This process enhances porosity at shallow depth, but beneath the dolomite body precipitation of anhydrite occludes porosity and limits the depth of reflux. In contrast, geothermal convection at the platform margin forms a smaller partially dolomitized body over a longer time (<60% dolomite after 1 My), with very minor associated anhydrite cementation. Reflux diagenesis is sensitive to platform geometry, with higher rates of fluid flow increasing the depth of alteration beneath the brine pool for a circular platform compared to the linear baseline. Fluid flow across thermal gradients enhances reaction rates, and ignoring heat transport by 85 ppt brine reflux underestimates the extent of reflux dolomite by 25% and associated anhydrite by 90%. The depth and rate of anhydritization is sensitive to the geothermal heat flux, whereas platform-top temperatures affect dolomitization rate. Reflux diagenesis is also sensitive to brine density, which affects both fluid flow and reaction rates. Sediment permeability and reactive surface area (RSA) are key intrinsic controls on diagenesis. Where the permeability structure permits sufficient fluid flow, diagenesis preferentially affects more reactive fine-grained sediments. However, as flow rates decline, reactions become focused in the more permeable but less reactive sediments. Simulations thus shed light on why in some settings reflux preferentially dolomitizes muddy sediments, but elsewhere favors grainstones. Once active reflux ceases, brines continue to flow in the subsurface, but this “latent reflux” causes only minor dolomitization due to prior Mg2+ consumption at shallow depth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-215
JournalJournal of Sedimentary Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Reactive transport modeling of brine reflux: dolomitization, anhydrite precipitation, and porosity evolution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this