Michael Morton, Postgraduate Researcher

Integrated sedimentology and isotope geochemistry of a world-class source rock in the Black SeaMichael Morton

Supervisors: Professor Sarah Davies and Professor Sarah Gabbott, Dr Stephen Vincent (CASP, University of Cambridge), Dr Rachel Flecker (University of Bristol), Professor Wout Krijgsman (University of Utrecht).


The Maykop Series (Oligocene – Early Miocene) is an organic-rich mudstone interval that was deposited in the Paratethys Ocean over a period of ca. 20Ma. The Paratethys Ocean was an epicontinental sea that extended from central Europe into China. It was intermittently isolated from the Tethys Ocean by orogenic processes occurring through central Europe and Asia during the early stages of Alpine collision in the Cenozoic. Paratethys isolation resulted in increasing organic preservation and the deposition of extensive fine grained organic-rich sediments that, today, are well exposed around the periphery of the Black Sea. These mudstones form a significant potential source rock for the Black Sea. With an increase in hydrocarbon exploration in this region, it is important to understand the sedimentological and geochemical controls on the production and preservation of organic matter in these mudstones and their source potential. Previous studies show that the underlying mudstones of the Middle to Late Eocene Kuma Formation also have good source potential though its thickness and lateral extent have undergone significantly less study. My project aims to primarily explore the Maykop Series, with the potential to expand into underlying formations, to determine their temporal variability and source rock potential using sedimentological and geochemical techniques alongside basin connectivity records using Sr isotopes.

Project Outline

The key objective of my project is to investigate and understand the sedimentology of the Maykop Series and its variation through time. This will be achieved by way of detailed core and thin section analysis, alongside organic and Sr isotope geochemistry to help understand the controls on source rock production and preservation. The Maykop Series is the predominant focus; being the major source potential for the Black Sea, but some research will be dedicated to the less studied Kuma Formation. The Kuma Formation is also a potential source rock and its occurrence also suggests the restriction of the Paratethys prior to Maykop deposition. Sr isotope analysis should enable the development of a basin connectivity record for Paratethys which may have a direct correlation to source rock quality within the basin. A group from Utrecht University are conducting detailed magnetostratigraphy on the Maykop Series aiming to provide a good time constraint on this succession. My project outcomes will be integrated with these results.

Research Theme

Solid Earth

My main objectives are to:

  • Investigate the variations in geochemistry during the onset, early stages and transition out of these organic-rich intervals.
  • Develop an understanding of how the Maykop Series varies through time with the potential to explore how they may differ from other contemporaneous formations around the Black Sea.
  • Constrain and understand the controls on source rock development in marginal marine settings.
  • Examine Sr isotope signals to develop a high resolution connectivity record between eastern Paratethys and the global ocean.

During the project I will collaborate closely with CASP (part sponsor of the project) who have long-term experience working on the Maykop Series, and a group from Utrecht University who have and continue to do extensive work on the Paratethys, particularly in the field of magnetostratigraphy.


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