The São Francisco Basin
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The intracratonic São Francisco basin covers almost the whole NS-trending lobe of the São Francisco craton, encompassing multiple and superimposed basin-cycles younger than 1.8 Ga. Underlain by a relatively thick and cold lithosphere, the basin contains three major Precambrian first-order sequences. The Mesoproterozoic to Early Neoproterozoic Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço sequence consists of a sand-dominated rift-sag succession that grades laterally into the sediments of a rift-passive margin basin developed along the western São Francisco plate between 1.3 and 0.9 Ga. The main occurrence of this sequence is associated with the NW-trending Pirapora aulacogen, a prominent graben nucleated in the early stages of São Francisco basin evolution (Paleoproterozoic?). The Neoproterozoic Macaúbas sequence and its correlatives record extensional events that affected the São Francisco-Congo in same time period of the dispersal of Rodinia. The Ediacaran Bambuí sequence covers large areas of the basin and marks the onset of a foreland basin-cycle triggered by the successive Brasiliano orogenies that involved the cratonic margins during the West Gondwana assembly. Diamictite-bearing successions of both Macaúbas and Bambuí sequences record important glacial ages that might have covered low latitudes during the Neoproterozoic. The Precambrian fill units of the basin are involved in foreland fold-thrust belts of opposite vergences, the Brasília, on west, Rio Preto on the north, and the Araçuaí, on the east. The Proterozoic assemblages are unconformably overlain by the Paleozoic Santa Fé Group, as well as the Cretaceous Areado, Mata da Corda and Urucuia groups. The glaciogenic Santa Fé Group is exposed in a few portions of the central and northern São Francisco basin and records the passage of the Gondwana through polar latitudes in the Late Carboniferous to Early Permian. The Lower Cretaceous Areado Group contains a package of sand-dominated strata deposited under arid to semi-arid conditions. They are overlain by Upper Cretaceous volcanic and epiclastic successions, generated during a magmatic event that affected large areas of the central and southeastern Brazil. This event is probably coeval with the deposition of the widespread Urucuia desertic successions and marks an important uplift phase of the Alto Paranaíba arch, a 350 km long and 80 km wide structure that separates the Paraná and São Francisco hydrographic and sedimentary basins. The Cretaceous cover assemblages are contemporaneous to the South Atlantic opening and the consequent separation of the São Francisco and Congo cratons.
KeywordsSão Francisco basin São Francisco craton Intracratonic basin Brazil
As a consequence of their longevity and strength to survive recycling events (O’Reilly et al. 2001; King 2005; Neill et al. 2008), cratons stand out as complex tectonic domains that have witnessed the evolutionary history of the continental lithosphere. Thanks to that, intracratonic basins, as poly-historic depocenters, generally host important records of the trajectory of the differentiated cratonic lithosphere through geological time (e.g.: Korsch and Lindsay 1989; Kaminski and Jaupart 2000; Spalletti and Limarino 2006; Kadima et al. 2011).
Many aspects of the São Francisco basin geology are still poorly understood. The lack of good geochronological constraints hampers regional stratigraphic correlations and detailed palinspatic and paleoenvironmental reconstructions of the fill units. Moreover, the paucity of available sub-surface data has limited the studies to a few seismic lines, drill cores, and relatively scarce exposures of good quality (e.g., Coelho et al. 2008; Zalán and Romeiro-Silva 2007; Hercos 2008; Martins-Neto 2009; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2012; Reis 2011). Nevertheless, the recent outset of hydrocarbon exploration programs and the resumption of regional mapping programs, aerogeophysical surveys, geochronological and geochemical studies are changing the scenario of São Francisco basin knowledge (e.g., Santos et al. 2000; Babinski et al. 2007; Vieira et al. 2007; Rodrigues et al. 2010, 2012; Kuchenbecker 2011; Pedrosa-Soares and Alkmim 2011; Pimentel et al. 2011; Alvarenga 2012, 2014; Lopes 2012; Reis et al. 2012, 2013).
In this chapter, we present a synthesis on the stratigraphic and tectonic framework of the São Francisco basin. Our work integrates numerous available studies performed in the region during the last decades and includes new data recently acquired during the renewal of the hydrocarbon exploration programs in the basin. Special emphasis is given on the correlation between the basin fill units and the main tectonic and climatic events affecting the São Francisco craton region during Precambrian and Phanerozoic times (e.g., Brito-Neves et al. 1999; Pedrosa-Soares et al. 2001; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001; Valeriano et al. 2004a, b). Our basic conclusion is that the history of São Francisco craton can be tracked not only by basement structures and surrounding orogenic belts, but also by its intracratonic cover assemblages. Additionally, the São Francisco basin rock record offers a new perspective to better understand the evolution of the adjacent orogenic belts, where metamorphism and intense deformation often overprint primary features.
The São Francisco basin occupies most of the NS-trending portion of the craton (Fig. 7.1), extending over an area of ca. 350.000 km2 in the southeastern Brazilian highlands (Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001). The eastern, western and northern limits of the basin, coinciding with the cratonic boundaries (see Cordani et al., this book), are given by structures of the Ediacaran Araçuaí, Brasília and Rio Preto marginal belts, respectively. The southern limit is erosional. To the northeast, the basin is bounded by the Paramirim Corridor, an Ediacaran intracratonic deformation zone that affects the neighboring Paramirim aulacogen (Cruz and Alkmim 2006 and this book) (Fig. 7.1).
According to recent drilled wells, the geothermal gradients measured in the basin area are on average 17 °C/km. As demonstrated by Rocha et al. (2011) and Assumpção et al. (this book), the basin is locally underlain by a thick cratonic lithosphere (ca. 200 km), thus corresponding to a typical cold intracratonic basin. Gravimetric inversion based on satellite surveys indicates a crust-mantle boundary at 40–45 km depths, with the deepest portions located in the basin center and adjacent to the Brasília belt, on the west (Oliveira 2009; Oliveira et al. 2012). This distribution agrees with the regional Bouguer anomalies observed in the basin area (Fig. 7.1) and coincides with the major tectonic features described further in this chapter.
Other definitions, and consequently, different delimitations for the São Francisco basin can be also found in the Brazilian geological literature (see discussion in Martins-Neto and Pinto 2001; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001). For instance, Domingues (1993) and Iyer et al. (1995) portrayed the São Francisco basin as the deposition site of the Neoproterozoic São Francisco Supergroup, an area that also encompasses the craton margins. The basin delimitation adopted here is quite simple and found broad acceptance in the current Brazilian petroleum industry and geological literature.
The correspondence between the stratigraphic subdivision adopted in this work and the lithostratigraphic units traditionally mapped in the basin over the last years is shown on Fig. 7.3. This figure also indicates the correlatives of these units in the orogenic belts that fringe the São Francisco craton.
The basement of the São Francisco basin comprises all units older than 1.8 Ga that forms a coherent NS-trending block in the western portion of the craton (Teixeira et al., this book). These units include Archean TTG-complexes (migmatites and gneisses), granitoid plutons, and greenstone belt successions, as well as Paleoproterozoic igneous and metasedimentary rocks (Dorr 1969; Alkmim and Marshak 1989; Heineck et al. 2003; Baltazar and Zucchetti 2007; Noce et al. 2007; Pinho 2008; Lana et al. 2013; Romano et al. 2013). Exposures of these assemblages occur close to the southern boundary of the basin and in relatively small statigraphic windows in the Sete Lagoas and Januaria highs, which represent major basement structures of the southern and northern portions of the basin, respectively (Fig. 7.1).
7.3.2 Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço 1st-Order Sequence
The Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço sequence can be subdivided into two 2nd-order sequences: a lower rift and an upper sag/passive margin (Fig. 7.4). The rift 2nd-order sequence mainly occurs in the interior of the Pirapora aulacogen and along the western sector of the basin, where its thickness is controlled by sets of large-scale normal faults.
Few available well data from the southeastern portion of the basin reveals that the basal rift 2nd-order sequence contains poorly-sorted fluvial to deltaic sandstones, arkoses and conglomerates, mainly arranged as metric to decametric fining-upward cycles. These sediments are intruded by mafic sills and dykes and commonly contain syn-tectonic growth strata.
The correlatives of the Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço sequence in the Brasília metamorphic belt are the marine packages of the Paranoá and Canastra groups, which consist of passive margin fine to coarse-grained siliciclastics, organic matter-rich shales, and carbonates with cyanobacteria mats and columnar stromatolites (Dardenne 1978, 1981, 2000; Martins-Neto 2009; Campos et al. 2013). Provenance studies carried out on these rocks indicated a sedimentary supply mainly derived from the cratonic area, with important Archean and Paleoproterozoic sources (Valeriano et al. 2004a, b; Pimentel et al. 2001; Rodrigues et al. 2012). U-Pb ages determinations on detrital zircons grains and diagenetic xenotime extracted from the same units yielded maximum depositional ages between 1.5 and 1.0 Ga. for the Paranoá and Canastra groups (Valeriano et al. 2004a, b; Matteini et al. 2012; Rodrigues et al. 2010; Pimentel et al. 2011; Rodrigues et al. 2012).
In the marginal Araçuaí belt, U-Pb age determinations on detrital zircons extracted from the Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço sequence correlatives (i.e.: middle to upper Espinhaço Supergroup) have indicated a maximum depositional age of ca. 1.2 Ga (Chemale et al. 2012). In the same region, their minimum age is estimated in ca. 900 Ma, as indicated by the direct dating of mafic intrusions that cut the whole succession (Machado et al. 1989).
The available U-Pb ages on detrital zircons extracted from Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço sequence exposures in the São Francisco basin (younger than ca. 1,3 Ga; Lopes 2012; Alvarenga 2012; Kuchenbecker et al. 2014; Reis et al. 2014) indicates a time span between ca 1.3 and 0.9 Ga for its deposition (Figs. 7.2 and 7.3).
7.3.3 Macaúbas 1st-Order Sequence
The up to 300 m-thick glaciogenic strata of the Jequitaí Formation (Karfunkel and Hoppe 1988; Uhlein et al. 2004; Hercos 2008), exposed along the rims of regional-scale anticlines in the eastern portion of basin, comprise diamictites, sandstones, and subordinated pelites, which correspond to ice-proximal till, alluvial-fan, lacustrine and proglacial fluvial (outwash plain) deposits (Martins-Neto and Hercos 2002). The Jequitaí Formation is traditionally interpreted as the intracratonic condensed section of rift/passive margin successions accumulated along the margins of the São Francisco plate (Uhlein et al. 2004), probably during a global-scale glacial event in the Cryogenian Period (Babinski et al. 2012).
The Macaúbas 1st-order sequence comprises an up to 800 m-thick package of transitional to shallow marine deposits in the western portion of the basin. In drill cores, it consists of radioactive shales that grade upward into deltaic well sorted, medium to fine-grained sandstones, commonly associated with thin beds of delta plain heterolithics, sandstones and conglomerates. Periodic exposures are suggested by a few beds of oxidized paleosoil-like mudstones. In its uppermost portion, the whole succession is bounded by detachment faults of the Brasília foreland fold-and-thrust belt (Fig. 7.7). These deposits apparently grade laterally into the Vazante Group, which is exposed close to the western boundary of the basin and comprises a ca. 5000 m-thick succession dominated by marine carbonates and fine-grained siliciclastics, locally interbedded with conglomerates, sandstones, diamictite-bearing and phosphorite deposits (Dardenne 2000; Azmy et al. 2008; Martins-Neto 2009) (Figs. 7.1, 7.2 and 7.6). This unit is known for hosting important Pb-Zn deposits (Dardenne 2000), as well as organic-rich black shales with up to ca. 15 % of total organic content (Martins-Neto 2009).
The Vazante Group is interpreted as a passive margin basin-fill succession (Dardenne 2000), fed mainly by Archean and Paleoproterozoic cratonic sources (Pimentel et al. 2011; Rodrigues et al. 2012). Its maximum age is constrained by the youngest U-Pb detrital zircon ages of 930 Ma found in the basal Rocinha Formation (Rodrigues 2008; Rodrigues et al. 2012). This passive margin system seems to have been later converted into an active margin setting (Pimentel et al. 2011).
In the Araçuaí belt, which bounds the basin to the east, the Macaúbas 1st-order sequence is represented by the glacial to post-glacial metasedimentary successions of the Macaúbas Group (Karfunkel and Hoppe 1988; Uhlein et al. 1999; Martins-Neto et al. 2001; Martins-Neto and Hercos 2002; Martins-Neto 2009; Pedrosa-Soares et al. 2007; 2011a, b, Babinski et al. 2012). As indicated by recent provenance studies based on detrital zircon age determinations (Kuchenbecker et al. 2014; Alkmim et al., this book), these successions record a Cryogenian-Ediacaran rift-passive margin basin developed between the São Francisco peninsula (precursor of the São Francisco craton) and the Congo continent. They contain thick packages of sandstones, pelites, glaciomarine diamictites, carbonates, basic volcanics, banded iron formations and ophiolite remnants. Closure of this confined basin during the Brasiliano/PanAfricano event led to the development of Araçuaí-West Congo orogen around 570 Ma (Pedrosa-Soares et al. 2001; Alkmim et al. 2006).
The Macaúbas sequence is correlative of the rift-related successions of the Santo Onofre Group in the western Paramirim aulacogen (Schobbenhaus 1996; Danderfer et al. 2009). The diamictite-bearing Canabravinha Formation exposed in the Rio Preto belt along the northern margin of the craton is another correlative of the Macáubas sequence (Schobbenhaus 1996; Caxito et al. 2014).
The age of the Macaúbas 1st-order sequence is still a matter of debate. According to the data so far obtained in the basin, it was most likely deposited between ca. 880 Ma and 740 Ma. Its maximum depositional age is given by the youngest detrital zircon so far found in diamictites of the Jequitaí Formation (Rodrigues 2008; Pimentel et al. 2011), which is in agreement with the youngest U-Pb zircon ages obtained from siliciclastic rocks of the lower Vazante Group in the western São Francisco basin (Pimentel et al. 2011; Rodrigues et al. 2012). The minimum age of 740 Ma, on the other hand, is constrained by a Pb–Pb isochron obtained on basal cap carbonates of the Bambuí Group (Babinski et al. 2007), which unconformably cover the basement on the southern portion of basin. Unsolved issues regarding the age of Macaúbas sequence are: (1) current interpretations on correlative successions of the Macaúbas Group exposed in the Araçuaí metamorphic belt (Kuchenbecker et al. 2015) have suggested maximum depositional ages younger than 730 Ma for the entire glaciogenic strata; (2) no other late Tonian (to Cryogenian) age has been so far obtained on the basal cap carbonates of the Bambuí Group, which in general seem to be much younger than 740 Ma (Rodrigues 2008; Kuchenbecker 2011; Caxito et al. 2012); (3) at least part of the diamictite-bearing successions of the São Francisco basin commonly ascribed to the Jequitaí Formation could actually represent a late Cryogenian to Ediacaran glaciation instead of a Sturtian event, as suggested by regional stratigraphic and chemostratigraphic data (Caxito et al. 2012), as well as seismic and drill core information.
7.3.4 Bambuí 1st-Order Sequence
Covering the largest area of the São Francisco basin, the Bambuí 1st-order sequence (i.e., the Bambuí Group) comprises a package of carbonates, pelites, sandstones and subordinated conglomerates. The sequence is interpreted as the record of an Ediacaran foreland basin stage experienced by the São Francisco plate in response to lithospheric overburden caused by the uplift of the Brasília and Araçuaí belts (Barbosa et al. 1970; Chang et al. 1988; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001; Alkmim et al. 2011). On seismic sections, the Bambuí sequence displays a typical wedge-shaped geometry, whose thickness varies from a few hundred meters, on the east, to ca. 3000 m in the presumed foredeep area, on the west (Fig. 7.4). Remarkably, the seismic sections also reveal a slight thickening of the lower Bambuí sequence over preexisting large-scale structures (e.g.: Pirapora aulacogen), a fact that suggests reactivation of older fabric elements induced by the orogenic overburden along the craton margins.
The Bambuí 1st-order sequence encompasses four shallowing upward 2nd-order sequences, which are continuous over large areas of the basin and comprise the Paraopeba Sub-Group and the Três Marias Formation (Costa and Branco 1961; Braun 1968; Dardenne 1978, 1981). The Bambuí sequence also includes a distinct basal unit, the Carrancas Conglomerate and associated siliciclastics, which consist of a thin package of fluvial fine- to coarse-grained siliciclastics. These sediments have been interpreted as a lowstand system tract succession, restricted to some channels carved in the basement in southeastern portion of the basin (Vieira et al. 2007).
The basal 2nd-order sequence encompasses a succession of glaciogenic diamictites and lodgment tillites covered by post-glacial cap carbonates and a thick succession of shallow marine and stromatolite-bearing limestones and dolostones (Figs. 7.2, 7.5 and 7.6). These rocks correspond to the glacial-influenced units of the Carrancas Formation (Romano 2007; Kuchenbecker et al. 2013) and the overlying platformal carbonates of Sete Lagoas Formation (Nobre-Lopes 1995, 2002; Vieira et al. 2007; Iglesias and Uhlein 2009). Seismic and well data indicate that the sequence also includes diamictite-bearing successions which are exposed in the northwestern portion of the basin and have been traditionally correlated to the Jequitaí Formation, i.e., Macaúbas 1st-order sequence (e.g.: Dardenne 1978, 1981; Lima 2011).
In drill cores from the northern portion of the basin, the basal 2nd-order sequence includes diamictites and gravity flow coarse- to fine-grained siliciclastics, overlain by a ca. 100 m-thick succession of carbonate ramp deposits with subordinate interbedded organic-rich shales (Fig. 7.5). The overall δC13 and δO18 isotopic content and sedimentary facies described for the Sete Lagoas carbonates indicate typical post-glacial signatures (e.g.: Santos et al. 2000; Kuchenbecker 2011; Caxito et al. 2012; Alvarenga et al. 2014), similar to those described in Neoproterozoic glacial successions worldwide (Hoffman and Schrag 2002).
The remaining three shallowing upward 2nd-order sequences overlay the glacial-related deposits and encompass the upper Sete Lagoas, the Serra de Santa Helena, Lagoa do Jacaré, Serra da Saudade and Três Marias formations (Costa and Branco 1961; Dardenne 1978, 1981). In the eastern and central sectors of the basin, the second and third lower-rank sequences consist of 100 ms-thick cycles with pelite-dominated packages at the base that grade upwards into shallow platformal carbonates. The uppermost 2nd-order sequence, on the other hand, consists mostly of marine fine-grained siliciclastic deposits overlain by the storm-influenced and sand-dominated Três Marias Formation (Chiavegatto 1992) (Fig. 7.6).
The 2nd-order sequences grade laterally into the fan-deltaic and submarine fan siliciclastics of the Samburá and Lagoa Formosa formations in the western half of the basin (Castro and Dardenne 2000; Dardenne et al. 2003; Baptista 2004; Fragoso et al. 2011; Uhlein et al. 2011). In this portion of the basin, the Bambuí sequence also contains deep marine glauconite- and phosphorite-bearing sediments of the Serra da Saudade Formation (Lima et al. 2007). The facies changes in the Bambuí sequence reflect the transition from shallower forebulge to foredeep deposits, accumulated, respectively on the central-eastern and western sectors of the basin (Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001; Alkmim et al. 2011; Martins-Neto 2009).
Provenance studies and facies distribution point toward two main source areas for the Bambuí sequence: (i) Neoproterozoic orogenic sources associated with the Brasília belt on the west, and (ii) Archean and Proterozoic sources, represented by the craton basement and older basin-fill units. The orogenic source is indicated by the spatial distribution and provenance of the Samburá and Lagoa Formosa rudites, as well as consistent eastward paleocurrent indicators measured in the uppermost Três Marias sandstones (Chiavegatto 1992; Castro and Dardenne 2000; Uhlein 2014). The expressive occurrence of shallow carbonate facies in the central and eastern portions of the basin (Nobre-Lopes 1995, 2002; Vieira et al. 2007; Iglesias and Uhlein 2009; Costa 2011a, b), associated with progradational seismic patterns outward from the large Januária and Sete Lagoas basement highs (Fig. 7.7) suggest that the craton basement has also contributed with sediments during the deposition of the Bambuí sequence. An additional and late sourcing associated with the Araçuaí belt is represented by thin beds of coarse-grained siliciclastics exposed in a few areas along the eastern São Francisco basin (Chavegatto et al. 1997; Kuchenbecker et al. 2014).
The detrital zircon U-Pb age spectrum obtained from Bambuí Group rocks also point toward bimodal (cratonic and orogenic) sources, constraining, in addition, a maximum deposition age of ca. 610 Ma for most of the sequence (Rodrigues 2008; Lima 2011; Pimentel et al. 2011; Reis et al. 2012). This age has been, however, matter of debate. The recent discover of Cloudina sp. fossil remnants (Warren et al. 2014) and late Ediacaran zircon grains in the basal sediments of the Sete Lagoas Formation (Paula-Santos et al. 2015; Pimentel et al. 2012; Kuchenbecker et al. 2014) have indicated ages younger than ca. 550 Ma for almost the entire Bambuí sequence and thus a mismatch between the Late Ediacaran basin-cycle and the southern Brasília belt evolution, whose main collisional stage was dated at ca. 630 Ma (Valeriano et al. 2004a, b; Pimentel et al. 2011). Since the whole Bambuí sequence is involved in the external portion of the southern Brasília belt in the western São Francisco basin, it seems that the orogenic stage in the belt has lasted longer than previously thought. Nevertheless, further studies are required to better evaluate the real significance of the mentioned ages and their tectono-stratigraphic implications.
The Bambuí sequence has correlatives in other portions of the craton and marginal orogenic belts. The Salitre Formation, exposed in the Paramirim aulacogen, consists of shallow marine carbonates and subordinated fine-grained siliciclastics and phosphate-bearing successions (Souza et al. 1993; Misi and Veizer 1998; Misi 2001). In the marginal Brasília and Araçuaí belts, the chronological equivalents of the Bambui sequence are the Ediacaran syn-orogenic assemblages of the Rio Verde (with the underlying Cubatão diamictites?) and Salinas formations, respectively (Martins-Neto et al. 2001; Lima et al. 2002; Pedrosa-Soares et al. 2007; Santos et al. 2009; Rodrigues et al. 2010; Dias et al. 2011). The regional distribution of the units suggests, at least partially, the coexistence of the foreland intracratonic system and marginal orogenic basins during the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary.
7.3.5 Late Paleozoic Santa Fé Group
The Santa Fé Group is composed of an up to 180 m-thick package of diamictites, dropstone-bearing shales, sandstones and subordinated varvites and tillites of glaciolacustrine, glaciofluvial and periglacial origin (Campos and Dardenne 1997a, b). Occurrences of the Santa Fé sedimentary rocks are scarce and limited to the central and northwestern portions of the basin, where they fill large valleys carved on upper Bambuí strata and are often associated with striated pavements. The Santa Fé deposits record the Permo-Carboniferous glaciation that has affected the West Gondwana during the Late Paleozoic (Sgarbi et al. 2001; Limarino et al. 2014; Torsvik and Cocks 2013; Vesely and Assine 2006).
7.3.6 The Cretaceous Areado, Mata da Corda and Urucuia Groups
The youngest units of the São Francisco basin are the Cretaceous Areado, Mata da Corda and Urucuia groups, which occur in a series of isolated mesas and large plateaus in its southwestern and northern portions.
The Lower Cretaceous Areado Group is composed of an up to ca. 300 m-thick sand-dominated succession, whose main exposures are located at the southwestern sector of the basin (e.g., Campos and Dardenne 1997a, b; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Kattah 1991; Fragoso 2011; Pedrosa-Soares and Alkmim 2011). The group is subdivided into three formations. The basal Abaeté Formation consists of alluvial medium- to coarse-grained sedimentary successions, locally interbedded with sandstones and mudstone layers. These deposits are overlain by the discontinuous lacustrine strata of the Quiricó Formation, which encompasses distal fine-grained siliciclastics associated with turbidite deposits and thinner black shale layers (Kattah 1991; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Fragoso 2011). Conchostracan remnants, plant fragments and fresh water fossils are commonly described in this succession (Sgarbi 2000; Sgarbi et al. 2001). The upper Três Barras Formation corresponds to fluvial and fluvio-deltaic sandstones, as well as widespread and thicker aeolian strata. Restricted thin layers of silexite with bathyal/abyssal radiolarian fauna strongly contrasts with the overall continental record of the Areado Group (e.g.: Kattah 1991; Sgarbi 2000; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Arai 2009; Fragoso 2011). These continental/marine Early Cretaceous fossil-bearing layers represent a challenge for understanding the paleogeography of the basin during the Early Cretaceous.
The Upper Cretaceous Mata da Corda Group is exposed in the southwestern São Francisco basin and consists of a succession of alkaline volcanic/sub-volcanic, volcaniclastic and epiclastic rocks (Campos and Dardenne 1997a, b; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Sgarbi 2011a, b). It is related to alkaline-carbonatitic-phosphoritic igneous intrusions and a system of NW-trending dykes that cut extensive areas along southeastern and central Brazil (Borges and Drews 2001; Silva 2006; Grasso 2010). This magmatism is generally associated with a late uplift event of the Cretaceous Paranaíba arch, which separates the Paraná and São Francisco basins (Hasui and Haraliy 1991; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Sgarbi 2011a, b).
The Cretaceous Urucuia Group covers a large area along the central and northern portions of the basin (Campos and Dardenne 1997a, b; Sgarbi et al. 2001 and references therein). The group consists of an up to 360 m-thick succession of aeolian sandstones, locally associated with fluvial fine- to coarse-grained sediments. These deposits extend further to the north of São Francisco basin, where they overlie the Lower Cretaceous units of the Parnaíba basin (Campos and Dardenne 1997a, b; Sgarbi et al. 2001). Commonly viewed as a correlative unit of the Upper Cretaceous Mata da Corda Group, the age and stratigraphic correlations of this group are still unclear (Sgarbi et al. 2001).
The Areado, Mata da Corda and Urucuia groups are interpreted as continental interior manifestations of the Cretaceous rifting event that led to the development of the South Atlantic (e.g., Hasui and Haralyi 1991; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Mohriak and Leroy 2012).
7.4 Tectonic Framework
7.4.1 Proterozoic Rift Structures
The largest Proterozoic rift structure preserved in the basin is the NW-trending Pirapora aulacogen. Partially inverted, this graben is defined by a system of NW-striking normal faults and conjugate NE-oriented structures. It hosts the Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço sequence, which covers an apparently older and unknown succession confined to its central portion (Fig. 7.4). The aulacogen separates two large basement highs located in the southern and northern sectors of the basin, the Sete Lagoas and Januária highs, respectively. Exposed in a few windows along the basin, these basement highs stand out on geophysical maps and seismic sections (Figs. 7.1 and 7.4) and seem to have acted as positive structures during the whole Proterozoic evolution of the basin. During the Neoproterozoic, the onset of the Macaúbas basin-cycle was responsible for the nucleation of a new generation of rift-related structures (Fig. 7.7). In the eastern portion of the basin, seismic sections suggest that these structures formed through the extensional reactivation of pre-existing Pirapora aulacogen faults. The overall configuration of the Pirapora aulacogen indicates that its nucleation dates back to the early evolutionary stages of the São Francisco basin (Late Paleoproterozoic?).
7.4.2 Foreland Fold-Thrust Belts
Main attributes of the Brasília and Araçuaí foreland fold-thrust belts
Brasília Foreland f-t-belt
Araçuaí Foreland f-t-belt
Folds and major thrusts associated with subordinate duplexes coupled to a regional detachment zone. Late stage NW-trending left-lateral and NE-trending right-lateral strike-slip faults affect the previous structures respectively in the southern and northern sectors of the belt
Thin-skinned, W-verging thrusts and folds associated with duplexes and imbricate fans. At its central sector, large-scale double plunging folds developed as cover structures of inverted preexisting (buried) rift structures. NE and NW-trending conjugate fracture sets are widespread throughout the whole belt
Marked by a few west-dipping thrusts and decreasing strain intensity towards east
Given by the systematic west vergence of the fabric elements and progressive decrease in the strain intensity in the same direction
Wedge-shaped and fold-dominated thin-skinned belt, coupled to detachments located near the base of the Bambuí sequence
Segmented in two thin-skinned domains, separated by a central thick-skinned sector
Absent (sharp contact with the Brasília metamorphic belt on the west)
Gradual increase towards east, reaching the greenschist facies conditions close to the eastern boundary of the basin
ca. 630–540 Ma (?)
ca. 580–530 Ma
220.127.116.11 The Brasília Foreland Fold-Thrust Belt
The evolution of the foreland belt was partially accompanied by the extensional reactivation of pre-existing structures (e.g.: Pirapora aulacogen) and nucleation of a system of NE-trending grabens in the southern part of the basin (Fig. 7.9). These grabens formed through the reactivation of Archean contractional structures and host complete sections of the lower Bambuí sequence. They developed in the outer arc of the Sete Lagoas basement high, which seem to have acted as the forebulge during the imposition of the orogenic loads along the western margin of the basin.
The Brasília foreland fold-thrust belt can be subdivided into three segments, southern, central and northern, which exhibit remarkable differences in tectonic style. The southernmost segment mostly involves rocks of the Bambuí sequence and contains structures of two distinct generations. First-stage chevron folds with NNE-trending hinges are locally bounded by west-dipping thrusts in the interior of duplexes and imbricate fans. These structures are cut by a system of late stage sinistral strike-slip faults, which affect the basement and are responsible by an overall counterclockwise rotation of preexistent fabric elements along narrow NW- trending corridors. The southern foreland belt segment is bounded to the west by the metamorphic nappes of the Brasília belt (Figs. 7.9 and 7.10).
The late stage strike-slip faults are practically absent in the central segment of the foreland belt, where upright chevron folds of the first phase frankly predominate (Fig. 7.11). In this segment, the belt exhibits its maximum cratonward advancing, culminating as the Três Marias salient, a 130 km long and 80 km wide antitaxial curve (Reis 2011; Reis and Alkmim 2015; Reis et al. 2011) (Figs. 7.9 and 7.10). The salient corresponds to a basin-controlled curve, whose apex roughly coincides with the sector of the basin that contains the thickest pre-orogenic Bambuí strata (Reis and Alkmim 2015).
The main structures of the northern Brasília foreland belt are NNW-trending folds and subordinated thrusts, locally overprinted by sets of NE-oriented strike-slip faults (Fonseca et al. 1995; Alkmim et al. 1996; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001). The strike-slip system affects the Archean/Paleoproterozoic basement and continues westwards into the northern Brasília marginal belt. Structural analyses carried out by Araújo Filho (2000) in this region indicate that the northern segment of the Brasília marginal belt is significantly younger than its southern counterpart.
In the northernmost São Francisco basin, the Brasília foreland fold-thrust belt curves towards northeast and merges with the external domain of the of Rio Preto belt, a cratonward verging system of folds and thrusts, which roots in right-lateral strike-slip system (Egydio-Silva et al. 1989; Caxito et al. this book).
18.104.22.168 The Araçuaí Foreland Fold-Thrust Belt
The Araçuaí foreland fold-thrust belt extends along the eastern edge of the São Francisco basin and represents the external portion of the equally named marginal belt that bounds the craton to the east (Fig. 7.9). Differently from the Brasilia foreland belt, folds of the Araçuaí foreland belt are asymmetric, show a clear W-directed vergence and are associated with a regionally penetrative axial plane cleavage (Fig. 7.11). Furthermore, close to the eastern boundary of the basin, the rocks involved in the belt have experienced metamorphism under lower greenschist facies conditions (Schöll 1973; Magalhães 1988; Oliveira 1989; Souza-Filho 1995). Conjugate NE- and NW-trending fractures are observed along its whole extension (e.g.: Oliveira 1989; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001).
The southern segment of the Araçuaí foreland belt is thin-skinned and linked to a regional detachment developed along the basal contact of the Bambuí Group with older units (Magalhães 1988; D’Arrigo 1995). The main structures of the segment are NNW-trending duplexes and W-verging imbricate fans. These structures are locally affected by late stage co-axial folds, which seem to have been generated during the late reactivation of basement-involved faults along the eastern craton boundary (D’Arrigo 1995).
The central segment of the belt is associated with the partial inversion of the Pirapora aulacogen structures (Figs. 7.4 and 7.9). The most striking surface expression of the compressional reactivation of buried extensional structures is a set of regional and double-plunging drape folds (Fig. 7.9). The interaction between the foreland belt and the preexistent NW-oriented graben produced a salient, whose development was probably influenced by along-strike thickness variations of the pre-orogenic strata (Marshak and Wilkerson 1992; Souza-Filho 1995). Some oroclinal bending was likely active during the generation of the southern salient limb, as indicated by fabric rotation along WNW-trending left-lateral strike-slip faults, which coincide with the Pirapora aulacogen boundary (Souza-Filho 1995). The widespread occurrence of large quartz and calcite veins in the culmination zone of the salient denotes an expressive fluid migration episode, probably related to the reactivation of older basement-involved structures (Fig. 7.11). Deep-seated faults become less significant in the northern segment of the belt and thin-skinned structures seem to predominate over the entire sector (e.g. Oliveira 1989).
7.4.3 Cretaceous Rift Structures
Although less expressive, Cretaceous rift structures are well exposed in the southwestern São Francisco basin. These structures control the deposition of the Lower Cretaceous Areado Group, as well as the emplacement and extrusion of the Upper Cretaceous Mata da Corda igneous rocks.
In the southwestern sector of the basin, NNW-trending normal faults, formed through the extensional reactivation of the Brasilia foreland fold-thrust belt structures, control the thickness and sedimentary dispersal of the Lower Cretaceous Areado Group (Sawasato 1995; Fragoso 2011; Reis 2011) in the interior of a major structure, the Abaeté graben (Fig. 7.8). These faults are genetically related to an assembly of NW-striking tensile fractures, NS-oriented normal faults and shear fracture sets, which were likely formed under extensional stress field with sub-vertical σ1 and horizontal NE-trending σ3 (Sawasato 1995; Reis 2011).
Upper Cretaceous intrusions, as well as a swarm of NW-trending dykes associated with the Mata da Corda Group often deform the Areado Group sediments and produce a variety of folds and faults (Sawasato 1995; Borges and Drews 2001). A younger family of structures consists of normal-sinistral NE-striking faults, which affect the Cretaceous strata and apparently control the morphology of the southwestern sector of the basin (Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001). The precise age of these structures remains unknown.
The most prominent structure of the southwestern edge of the São Francisco basin corresponds to a ca. 350 km long and ca. 80 km wide arch, the Alto Paranaíba arch that separates the Paraná and São Francisco sedimentary and hydrographic basins (Hasui and Haralyi 1991; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001) (Fig. 7.8). The main uplift stage of this structure seems to have occurred in the Cretaceous period, simultaneously to the deposition and emplacement of the Areado and Mata da Corda successions (Hasui and Haralyi 1991; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Hackspacher et al. 2007).
7.5 Evolutionary Synthesis
Stabilized after the 2.1–2.0 Ga Transamazonian-Eburnean event, the São Francisco craton and its African counterpart were probably incorporated in the Columbia supercontinent (see D´Agrella et al. this book, Roger and Santosh 2002; Zhao et al. 2004; Meert 2012; Nance et al. 2014). Involved in the subsequent supercontinent cycles—except for Rodinia -, the craton underwent multiple tectonic events and experienced climatic changes of global significance (Brito-Neves et al. 1999; Martins-Neto et al. 2001; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2012). Due to its long-term intracratonic residence, the São Francisco basin records a complex evolutionary history briefly discussed in the next sections.
The manifestation of the second tectonic event documented in the basin corresponds to the reactivation of the Pirapora aulacogen coupled with the onset of the ca. 1.3–0.9 Ga Paranoá-Upper Espinhaço basin-cycle. Although no correlative magmatic ages have been so far reported in the São Francisco basin, Mesoproterozoic igneous zircons (age peaks around 1.5 and 1.4 Ga) are widespread in its entire sedimentary record (e.g.: Pimentel et al. 2011; Matteini et al. 2012; Rodrigues et al. 2012). Documented worldwide, the Mesoproterozoic anorogenic magmatism associated with multiple rifting episodes might represent a manifestation of the Columbia supercontinent breakup, which started around 1.6 Ga and ended between 1.3 and 1.2 Ga (Zhao et al. 2004). The continents generated by the dispersal of Columbia reassembled to form the Rodinia supercontinent at very end of the Mesoproterozoic (Brito-Neves et al. 1999; Hoffman 1991; Nance et al. 2014). Most of the Rodinia reconstructions (e.g.: Kroener and Cordani 2003; Pisarevsky et al. 2003; Tohver et al. 2006; Nance et al. 2014) shows the São Francisco-Congo in the periphery of the supercontinent or as an isolated landmass. In fact, no clear evidence for collisional tectonism affecting the São Francisco craton in time between 1.2 and 1.0 (Grenvillian event) has been yet found.
Sometime during the Neoproterozoic Era, the São Francisco-Congo continent experienced a renewed rifting phase, which is recorded by the accumulation of the Macaúbas 1st-order sequence. The broad tectonic scenario and the exact chronology of this and the subsequent tectonic events are still poorly understood. In the São Francisco basin, the Neoproterozoic Macaúbas basin-cycle is represented by the sedimentary successions of the Jequitaí Formation, Vazante Group (?) and correlatives (Figs. 7.2 and 7.3).
Two main diachronic events that affected the São Francisco-Congo plate during the Neoproterozoic are chronologically associated with the Macaúbas basin-cycle. The development of a convergent margin between 900 and 600 Ma on the western portion (present-day coordinates) of the plate culminated with the development of an extensive arc-related basin partially floored by the oceanic remnants of the Araxá Group of Brasilia belt (Pimentel et al. 2004, 2011; Valeriano et al. 2004a, b; Rodrigues et al. 2012). The São Francisco continental margin received the sediments of the Vazante Group and its landward sand-dominated correlatives (Figs. 7.2 and 7.12).
Along the eastern margin of the craton, the Macaúbas sequence records a rifting event followed by the development of a passive margin system that defined a large gulf separating a continent, represented by the Congo craton, from a peninsula, represented by the São Francisco craton and its margins (Fig. 7.12). This basin-cycle apparently took place after the Tonian extensional episode that culminated with the deposition of the lower Macaúbas Group (exposed in the Araçuaí metamorphic belt) and is characterized by an assembly of Cryogenian to Ediacaran anorogenic intrusions, bimodal volcanics, ophiolite slices and rift-passive margin sedimentary successions (Pedrosa-Soares et al. 2001, 2007; Queiroga et al. 2007; Silva et al. 2008; Kuchenbecker et al. 2015; Alkmim et al. this book).
The Macaúbas basin-cycle, recorded in the eastern São Francisco basin by the Jequitaí formation, developed in the course of a glacial event, often ascribed to the Sturtian ice age (e.g.: Babinski et al. 2007, 2012). As previously mentioned, the precise age of the glacial units remains unclear (e.g.: Schobbenhaus 1996; Figueiredo 2008; Caxito et al. 2014; Babinski et al. 2012; Pedrosa-Soares and Alkmim 2011).
The oldest Neoproterozoic orogenic event documented in the margins of São Francisco craton, representing the Paranapanema-São Francico/Congo collision, was responsible for the uplift of the southern Brasília belt around 630 Ma (Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001; Pimentel et al. 2004; 2011; Valeriano et al. 2004a, b). After this event, a major transgression affected the São Francisco peninsula that started to behave as a downwarp basin. The mixed carbonate-siliciclastic sediments of the Ediacaran Bambuí 1st-order sequence started to fill the foreland basin-system (e.g., Chang et al. 1988; Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001, 2012; Martins-Neto 2009; Pimentel et al. 2011). The glacial deposits of the basal Bambuí sequence might represent the record of one of the ice ages that covered low latitudes worldwide in the late Cryogenian/early Ediacaran (Hoffman and Schrag 2002) or even younger climatic events.
Closure of the gulf that separated the São Francisco mega-peninsula from the Congo continent culminated with the development of the Araçuaí-West Congo orogen between ca. 580 and 540 Ma. (Pedrosa-Soares et al. 2001, 2007; Alkmim et al. 2006). The Araçuaí orogenic front propagated towards the São Francisco basin, thereby affecting the Bambuí strata and causing partial inversion of the Pirapora aulacogen within the foreland foreland fold-thrust belt (Figs. 7.4, 7.9 and Table 7.1). Once formed, the Araçuaí belt has also fed the restricted continental deposits of the uppermost Bambuí, exposed in few areas along the eastern São Francisco basin (Kuchenbecker et al. 2014).
In the final stages of West Gondwana assembly, the collision between Amazonia and São Francisco triggered the development of the northern Brasilia belt (Tohver et al. 2006; Araujo-Filho 2000), and a second contractional deformation phase along the preexistent southern Brasilia belt. As a consequence of that, the package of Bambuí sediments deposited on the craton interior became involved in the deformation, giving rise to the northern Brasília foreland fold-thrust belt (Figs. 7.4, 7.9 and 7.10). Simultaneously, an extensive right-lateral strike-slip system, which includes the Rio Preto belt and its external foreland portions, formed along the northern margin of the craton (Caxito et al. 2014).
From its residence in West Gondwana and Pangea, the São Francisco basin preserves only the Santa Fé glaciogenic sediments. These sediments accumulated around the Carboniferous-Permian boundary, when the supercontinent wandered along polar latitudes (Campos and Dardenne 1997a, b; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Limarino et al. 2014).
The Gondwana breakup in the early Cretaceous resulted in the opening of the South Atlantic and separation of the São Francisco and Congo cratons (Porada 1989; Pedrosa-Soares et al. 2001). The main segments of this large rift system evolved into the present-day passive and transform margins of the South America and Africa (e.g.: Zalán 2004; Mohriak and Leroy 2012). Other branches of the system, such as the Abaeté graben in the São Francisco basin, failed and became important depocenters in interior of the new continent (Figs. 7.8 and 7.13).
The opening of the Abaeté graben took place through the extensional reactivation of the underlying Precambrian structures (Sawasato 1995; Reis 2011) (Fig. 7.8). The graben received the sediments of the early Cretaceous Areado Group under arid to semi-arid climatic conditions (Sgarbi 2000; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Fragoso 2011). The radiolarian fauna found in silexites interbedded with the Areado continental deposits led Kattah (1991) and Arai (2009) to postulate that a marine incursion coming from the north reached the Abaeté graben.
Intraplate stress rearrangements in the course of the South Atlantic event caused the uplift of the Alto Paranaíba arch that affected the southwestern portion of the São Francisco basin (Alkmim and Martins-Neto 2001; Alkmim 2004) (Figs. 7.8 and 7.13). Despite of the paucity of precise paleotectonic/paleothtermal reconstructions, the arch uplift most likely started prior to the Cretaceous, and was successively amplified afterwards (Hasui and Haralyi 1991; Sgarbi et al. 2001; Hackspacher et al. 2007; Sgarbi 2011a, b). This scenario indicates that the Alto Paranaíba arch uplift is, at least partially, coeval to the generation of the Abaeté graben.
In the Upper Cretaceous, the Alto Paranaíba arch experienced a new reactivation. This uplift phase is associated with the extensive intraplate magmatic episode that culminated with the intrusion of NW-trending dykes, alkaline plutons, and the extrusion of kamafugitic lavas and pyroclastics rocks of the Mata da Corda Group (Borges and Drews 2001; Silva 2006; Hackspacher et al. 2007; Grasso 2010; Sgarbi 2011a, b). For some authors, this magmatic episode occurred in response to the action of a mantle plume beneath the craton border (Sgarbi et al. 2001; Hackspacher et al. 2007; Franco-Magalhães 2009). Regardless of the lack of precise age constraints, the sedimentation of the Urucuia Group might have occurred, at least in part, during the Alto Paranaíba arch uplift.
The mechanism involved in the generation of the prominent NE-striking oblique-slip faults that affect the Cretaceous units in the southwestern portion of the basin remains unclear.
7.6 Concluding Remarks
Covering a large portion of the craton, the São Francisco basin is underlain by a thick and cold lithosphere and corresponds to a typical intracratonic basin. Its multiple and superimposed basin-cycles (younger than 1.8 Ga) record the main tectonic and climatic events, which affected the São Francisco/Congo plate in the time between the Late Paleoproterozoic and the Upper Cretaceous. The following tectonic events have been so far recognized in the basin: (i) multiple Paleoproterozoic (?) to Early Neoproterozoic rifting and magmatic events; (ii) the Late Neoproteroic to Early Paleozoic Brasiliano-PanAfrican collisions (West Gondwana assembly) and (iii) the Lower Cretaceous South Atlantic rifting. These events and their geological record in most cases are also described in other parts of the São Francisco craton and along its marginal belts.
The Neoproterozoic basin-forming events took place contemporaneously to glacial ages of global significance. Similar successions found worldwide have been interpreted as the record of the Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth glaciations (Hoffman and Schrag 2002). More studies are required to better constrain the age and distribution of the glacial strata that occur within the São Francisco craton and along its marginal belts. The few Permo-Carboniferous glaciogenic deposits of the Santa Fé Group mark the passage of the Gondwana through polar latitudes in the Late Paleozoic.
This work was partially developed during hydrocarbon exploration programs conducted by Petra Energia S.A., which has provided technical and financial support and allowed the use of seismic and well data. F.F. Alkmim received support from CNPq, grant # 308045/2013-0. U.G. Cordani, M. Kuchenbecker, D.G.C Fragoso, and J.C.D. Sanglard are thanked for the helpful discussions and reviews, which greatly improved the original manuscript.
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