A Revolution in the Earth Sciences

Prof. Mike Simmons explains the impact of plate tectonics and how it all fits together



The emergence of plate tectonics theory in the 20th century was as revolutionary for Geology as natural selection was for Biology. This exciting new paradigm for the evolution of the Earth through time helped explain many geological phenomena that had previously perplexed geologists, or required extraordinary explanation. The revolution was no less significant for those working in the oil industry1. At last, a means of understanding the formation of sedimentary basins likely to hold oil and gas accumulations was at hand, linked to a vision of Earth’s ever-changing geography.


Learning from tectonic plate models

Plate models continue to evolve and become ever more refined. Exploration Insights™ provides clients with a state-of-the-art plate model, which can be used to reconstruct data and interpretations back to the position of the plates at any given time – covering the last 600 million years! The information gained from this model helps generate valuable exploration insight; for example, providing context for understanding the timing of basin formation and uplift in Southeast Asia that is profoundly linked to reservoir and source rock presence2. Leveraging plate tectonics’ historical perspective, Exploration Insights also provides clients with a unique set of global palaeogeographic maps. These are useful tools to help identify analogues for new plays and creating new exploration concepts3. Armed with a vision of how the world looked at a particular point in the geological past, geologists can now utilize (paleo)climate models to predict ocean currents, rainfall, sea-water temperature and a host of other parameters that help control the geographic distribution through time of petroleum systems4.


Learn more from the experts

Some of the key contributions to the development of plate tectonic theory have been captured by our “Great Geologists” series in Neftex Exploration Insights magazine. They include: Alfred Wegner5, the first to articulate continental drift, the forerunner to plate tectonics; Arthur Holmes6, who first described the fundamental process by which plates might move; and John Tuzo Wilson7, who was one of the key architects of the integrated plate tectonics paradigm in the 1960s.   


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1 Mau, M. and Edmundson, H. 2016. Tectonic Shocks in the Oil Industry. AAPG Explorer magazine (November Issue), http://www.aapg.org/publications/news/explorer/column/Articleid/34644/tectonic-shocks-in-the-oil-industry

2 Higton, J. 2017. Resolving the evolution of complex frontier regions in Southeast Asia: Insights from an integrated plate tectonic model. Neftex Exploration Insights magazine (March Edition), p.4.

3 Lang, C. and Reynald, M. 2016. Exploration Insights from Global Paleogeography. Neftex Exploration Insights magazine (December/January Edition), p.16.

4 Robinson, L. and Davies, A. 2016. Upwelling zones as controls on source rock deposition: is the present the key to the past? Neftex Exploration Insights magazine (March Edition), p.14.

5 Simmons, M.D. 2015. Great Geologist: Alfred Wegener. Neftex Exploration Insights magazine (December/January Edition), p.26.

6 Simmons, M.D. 2016. Great Geologist: Arthur Holmes. Neftex Exploration Insights magazine (May Edition), p.24.

7 Simmons, M.D. 2016. Great Geologist: John Tuzo Wilson. Neftex Exploration Insights magazine (November Edition), p.23.