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IPA, 2006 - 27th Annual Convention Proceedings, 2000

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PROCEEDINGS, INDONESIAN PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION


Twenty Seventh Annual Convention & Exhibition, October 1999
SULAWESI DISPERSAL AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE NORTHERN BANDA ARC
John Milsom*
Juergen Thurow*
Delphine Roques**

ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION

Bituminous Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic


sediments of the continental margin of northern
Australasia are now widely dispersed on islands
scattered around the Banda Sea. Data from Buton,
Buru and Seram indicate that these islands were parts
of a single block which included eastern Sulawesi.
This separated from Australia as a microcontinent in
the Jurassic and collided with the Eurasian margin to
form the Sulawesi orogen in the Oligocene or Early
Miocene. Collision was followed by extension and
dispersion, creating the Banda Sea and involving
parts of the former microcontinent in the new
collision zone in the Outer Banda Arc. The known oil
fields of Seram are often ascribed to sources in the
currently underthrusting New Guinea margin, but the
oil seeps and asphalt deposits of Buton, which
remained attached to Sulawesi, indicate that
hydrocarbons could have been sourced from Triassic
sediments within the Outer Banda Arc.

Most, and perhaps all, of the hydrocarbon deposits of


eastern Indonesia have been sourced from sediments
deposited at the Mesozoic margin of Australia. In
many cases these sediments and the underlying crust
are now incorporated into the Eurasian Plate, or lie
within problem regions where the location of the
plate boundary is uncertain. In attempting to
understand this area, we adopt the working
hypothesis that the Banda Sea has evolved in a
similar way to analogous small extensional basins in
the Mediterranean region. These basins are all
partially enclosed by arcuate orogenic belts
(oroclines: Fig. 1) and are thought to have formed as
consequences of the collapse of collision orogens
(Dewey, 1988).

Comparative studies of Mesozoic sediments on Buru,


Buton, Seram, eastern Sulawesi and plateaus off the
NW Shelf are gradually defining the development of
hydrocarbon systems in this frontier exploration area.
Faunal correlations are of especial importance.
Mesozoic pelagic microfaunas from NW Australia
are of typical Austral affinities and clearly distinct
from Tethyan faunas for most of the Mesozoic, while
those from the Banda Arc show a mixture of Austral
and Tethyan faunal elements. North Tethyan elements
have also been identified. The widespread but often
ignored Mesozoic sediments of eastern Sulawesi, and
their relationships with similar sediments on Buru, on
the far side of the oceanic North Banda Basin, are of
crucial importance.
___________________________________________
*
**

SE Asia Research Group, Department of Geological Sciences,


University College London
SE Asia Research Group, Geology Department, Birkbeck
College, University of London

Although most aspects of the geological history of


eastern Indonesia are controversial, there is consensus
on a few important points. It is generally agreed that
eastern Sulawesi was sutured to western Sulawesi in
the mid-Tertiary and that its later history has been
dominated by extensional and transcurrent faulting
(Bergman et al., 1996; Polv et al., 1997). Neogene
compression in Sulawesi has been confined to the
north, where the Celebes Sea is now being subducted
beneath the North Arm (Polv et al., 1997) and where
the Sula Spur collided with the East Arm in the
Pliocene (Davies, 1990). It is also generally agreed
that Sumba and the related Timor 'Banda Terrane'
(Harris, 1991) are of SE Asian origin and were
adjacent to western Sulawesi throughout the
Mesozoic and Paleogene (Wensink, 1994; Wensink
and van Bergen, 1995). It follows that the as yet
undated oceanic crust of the Flores Sea must be
Neogene, which provides circumstantial support for
the similar but still controversial ages now being
assigned to oceanic crusts of the North and South
Banda basins (Rhault et al., 1994). An almost
inescapable corollary is that the Outer Banda Arc

islands of Buru and Seram, as well as continental


fragments in the central Banda Sea, were closer to
Sulawesi prior to the Late Miocene than they are
today, and not further away as in many
reconstructions (e.g. Silver et al., 1985). We use the
term Banda Association to denote the very similar
Mesozoic and Paleogene sedimentary sequences
found on all these islands
The sources for the most important recent oil
discovery in eastern Indonesia, on Seram Island
(Kemp and Mogg, 1992), are thought to be Late
Triassic shaley limestones deposited at the Australian
continental margin just prior to the main Mesozoic
break-up phase (Price et al., 1987). Similar source
rocks are demonstrably present on the adjacent island
of Buru, on Buton, where they are believed to have
sourced commercially-exploitable asphalt deposits in
Tertiary rocks (Davidson, 1991) and on eastern
Sulawesi (Kundig, 1956). An understanding of the
history of these Banda Association rocks and the
controls on their present-day distribution provides an
essential basis for hydrocarbon exploration in the
area. In Figure 2 we show our interpretation of the
main Neogene movements in eastern Indonesia,
including the dispersion of the Banda Association as
a result of post-collisional Banda Sea expansion. The
importance of Eastern Sulawesi, commonly regarded
as one of the least prospective regions in Indonesia, is
clear.
GEOLOGICAL SUMMARY
Eastern Sulawesi
The Mesozoic sediments of eastern Sulawesi,
although widely distributed, have been relatively
neglected. More has been written about metamorphic
rocks but the emphasis in most descriptions has been
on the presence of one of the world's largest
ophiolites in the East Sulawesi Ophiolite Province.
Gravity surveys in various parts of the province
(Silver et al., 1978; Silver et al., 1983) have recorded
levels of Bouguer anomaly that are consistent with
crust of approximately normal continental thickness.
The absence of strong positive anomalies except in a
few places, and the identification in some areas of
flat-lying contacts between ultramafics and
underlying metamorphic rocks, both point to a
relatively minor role for the ophiolites in the overall
crustal composition. Although both Parkinson (1998)
and Helmers et al. (1989) have documented effects
consistent with the formation of a metamorphic sole

beneath the ophiolite, the main metamorphic event is


thought to have occurred much earlier. These older
metamorphic rocks are interpreted as the basement of
a micro-continental fragment which was rifted away
from the Australian margin in the Mesozoic and was
amalgamated with western Sulawesi in the midTertiary (Hamilton, 1979).
Support for this interpretation comes from many
sources. The main periods represented in the
Mesozoic record in East Sulawesi (Fig. 3) are the
Triassic to Lower Jurassic, when conditions were
terrestrial to marginal marine, and the Cretaceous,
which was characterised by deposition of deep-water
carbonates and cherts. The Middle to Late Jurassic
hiatus is widely recognised on the Australian
Northwest Shelf, where it marks an important rifting
phase, termed Wombat-type by Gradstein (1992)
following drilling on the Wombat Plateau. Surono
(1998), in describing the Late Triassic sediments of
Eastern
Sulawesi,
quoted
unpublished
palaeomagnetic determinations which placed their
site of deposition close to the Late Triassic latitude of
the Wombat Platitude.
The Cretaceous deep-water sediments of Eastern
Sulawesi are almost always found in close proximity
to the ophiolite and might therefore be supposed to
constitute its uppermost part. However, Parkinson
(1998) cited younger ophiolite ages and the reported
existence of depositional contacts between the
sediments and the schists as evidence against this
assumption. Similar sediments elsewhere in Eastern
Indonesia (see below) are regarded as characteristic
of the drift phase which followed rifting. Deposition
of this condensed section was terminated by the
approach to Eurasia and the eventual mid-Tertiary
collision which sutured the two halves of Sulawesi.
This was not, however, the last major event in the
history of the island. Volcanic rocks in western
Sulawesi with ages ranging from 2 to 18 Ma (but
concentrated around 8 Ma) were interpreted by
Bergman et al. (1996) as evidence for orogenic
collapse and extension, their chemistries being
consistent with melting at the base of an extending,
collision-thickened and possibly delaminating
lithosphere. This conclusion was endorsed by Polv
et al. (1997), who commented on the scarcity in
Sulawesi of conventional subduction-type calcalkaline rocks with Neogene ages.

Buton
Although Buton Island is geographically merely a
southeastern extension of Sulawesi, it has usually
been treated as a separate geological terrane (e.g.
Smith and Silver, 1991). Its stratigraphy (Fig. 3) was
interpreted by Davidson (1991) in terms of separation
from Australia in the Late Triassic or Early Jurassic,
transition from pre-rift to syn-rift sedimentation in the
Middle to Late Triassic and a collision which ended
drift sedimentation in the mid-Tertiary. The Triassic
be attributed to a collision with SE Sulawesi, but
could equally well be due to the more regional East
Sulawesi/West Sulawesi collision in which Buton
played a subordinate role. The history of ophiolite
emplacement and post-Middle Miocene molasse
deposition on Buton is very similar to that of eastern
Sulawesi. This fact was noted by Milsom et al. (1999)
but in that paper the earlier history of the Buton was
treated as distinct from that of eastern Sulawesi. We
now feel that at no stage in their geological histories
can strong evidence be found for separating the
supposedly distinct East Sulawesi and Buton terranes.
Seram
The Mesozoic sequence on the Outer Banda Arc
island of Seram (Fig. 4) is virtually identical to those
of Buton and Sulawesi, although the islands are now
separated by the oceanic North Banda Basin (Fig. 2).
Division of sediments of Seram into allochthonous
and para-autochthonous units, along the lines of the
widely adopted division of sediments on Timor
(Audley-Charles et al., 1979), was rendered
unconvincing by disagreement amongst the coauthors as to whether the Cretaceous-Paleogene drift
sequence (Nief Beds), which spans the time interval
from the Jurassic to Oligocene, was to be assigned to
the allochthon or para-autochthon. A different view
based in part on recent deep exploration drilling has
been offered by Kemp and Mogg (1992). In this
scheme, the oldest unmetamorphosed sediments of
Seram are placed in the Middle to Upper Triassic,
clastic-dominated, near-shore Kanikeh Formation,
which grades into Lower and Middle Jurassic deep
and shallow water limestones (Manusela and SamanSaman Formations respectively) both upwards and
laterally. If these relationships have been correctly
interpreted, then all sediments of Seram can be fitted
into a single stratigraphic sequence (Fig. 4).
The detailed geochemistry of oils from the Bula Field
in Seram has been discussed by Price et al. (1987),

formations contain abundant organic material which


is generally considered to be the source of the island's
asphalt deposits. Overall, the Mesozoic sequence is
very similar to that observed in eastern Sulawesi and
the distinction usually made between the two
provinces, based largely on variable but generally
very slight metamorphism of sediments in East
Sulawesi, is hard to sustain.
According to Davidson (1991), an Early or Middle
Miocene (N11) hiatus in sedimentation on Buton can
who concluded the evidence pointed to derivation
from a single marginal marine carbonate source, for
which they suggested the Manusela Formation as an
outcropping example. They also quoted unpublished
reports of the Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij
which described bitumen-impregnated Triassic
limestones near the south coast of Seram and drew
attention to similar geochemistries in the asphalts of
Buton and oil from a seep on Timor.
Banda Ridges
High-standing Banda Ridges in the central Banda Sea
were considered by Silver et al. (1985) to be
underlain by continental crust displaced from
northern New Guinea by strike-slip faulting.
However, dredging on these ridges has recovered not
only igneous and metamorphic rocks and Miocene
reefs (Cornee et al., 1998) but Triassic sediments
(Villeneuve et al., 1994) which resemble those of the
Banda Association. The Triassic of the Sula Spur
(Banggai and Sula islands, to the north of the Banda
Sea), for which there is much stronger evidence for a
New Guinea origin, is very different, being
dominated by acid volcanics and probably comagmatic granites (Garrard et al., 1988).
Timor
Most discussions of the Outer Banda Arc begin with
Timor, which may be unfortunate since this, while
certainly the largest and most intensively studied of
the islands, is probably also the most geologically
complex. Moreover, at no time has it been equally
easy to visit both the eastern and the western parts of
the island, which have been described rather
differently even in the most recent publications
(Sawyer et al., 1993., Reed et al., 1996). It is not yet
clear whether differences stem merely from different
approaches to mapping and interpretation or reflect
real variations in geology. Some rocks of Timor,
notably the Kolbano Series in the southwest, are very

similar to those of the Banda Association as defined


in this paper, but are usually regarded as having been
transferred from Australia to Eurasia during the
current collision phase. Complexities of Timor
geology, and the conflicting interpretations to which
they have led, have been summarised by Charlton et
al. (1991). It is at least arguable that a better
understanding of Timor will come from studies of the
Banda Association on the other Outer Arc islands,
rather than vice-versa.
WORK IN PROGRESS - BURU
As part of a continuing investigation of the
distribution of Australian crustal fragments in eastern
Indonesia, a joint University of London/Geological
Research and Development Centre expedition visited
Buru Island, at the extreme end of the Outer Banda
arc, in August 1998. Buru is less well known than any
other major island in the outer arc, but was described
by Hamilton (1979) as forming a single
microcontinent with western Seram. Certainly the two
islands are geologically very similar (Fig. 4).
Although much of Buru is covered by outcrops of
metamorphic rock, Mesozoic sediments are
extensively exposed in the western third of the island,
and this may ultimately prove to be the best area in
eastern Indonesia in which to study the Banda
Association. In the context of hydrocarbon
exploration, it is particularly interesting to note that
the bituminous Triassic source rocks which are
abundantly present in float in rivers in the northwest
of Buru seem directly comparable with the Triassic
source rocks of Buton and very similar to those
reported from southeast Seram. In the same rivers, the
base of the drift sequence consists of fossiliferous
cherty limestones rich in belemnites and fragments of
Buchia, and sometimes ammonites, representing
either gravity deposits or condensed layers. Very
similar sediments examined by one of us (JT) during
ODP Legs 122/123 on the Wombat Plateau were
dated as Tithonian to Valanginian. Pelagic
sedimentation on Buru continued into the Paleogene.
As noted above, in the Banda Association as a whole
there is commonly a second major unconformity in
the later part of the Paleogene which is interpreted as
a consequence of the collision between a
microcontinent and the margin of Sundaland. On
Buru, sediments as old as Lower Maastrichtian
contain detrital shallow water carbonate material and
large benthic foraminifera, indicating an early
shallow water connection with the Tethyan realm.

Studies of the metamorphic rocks of Buru are


defining a complex deformation history. Before
exhumation, they reached the amphibolite facies, as is
evident from the frequent presence of an almandinerich
garnet-staurolite-biotite-muscovite
mineral
assemblage.
Preliminary
geothermo-barometry
calculations indicate temperatures of 600-650oC and
pressures of 7-9Kb (corresponding to burial depths of
20 - 25 km). Young (4-5 Ma) cooling ages linked to
exhumation have been determined by potassiumargon dating applied to biotites and muscovites
(Linthout et al., 1989) and by a new apatite fission
track central age of 2.5+/- 0.5 Ma. These results
indicate a very high rate of cooling between 5 and 2.5
Ma, suggesting that the main uplift occurred during
this time inteval. The apatite fission track data
indicate rather slower (1km/Ma) denudation after 2.5
Ma, with cooling less influenced by dynamic
processes. Nonetheless, the overall rapid heat loss
from 5 Ma to the present suggests that a layer of rock
more than 6 km thick was removed during this period.
New gravity results indicate that the crust beneath
Buru is slightly thicker than the 30 - 35 km found
beneath normal, low-relief continents, and that the
extremely rugged mountains, with elevations up to
2700 m, are in approximate isostatic equilibrium.
This fact, coupled with the present-day exposure of
amphibolites which were once at depths of more than
20 km, implies that the crust prior to uplift was more
than 50 km thick. Such thicknesses are today found
only in collision orogens, and our results are thus
consistent with rapid extension during a period of
post-orogenic collapse. The removal of some 20 km
of overlying material may have been partly achieved
by extension along low-angle normal faults, but
erosional denudation has probably been the dominant
process during at least the last 2.5 m.y.
CONCLUSIONS
In islands of the Banda Association (eastern
Sulawesi, Buton, Buru and Seram), sedimentation
began in the Triassic under fluvial or marginal marine
conditions. Water depths increased in the Latest
Triassic/Early Jurassic and limestones, including
typical platform carbonates, were then widely
deposited. Bituminous sediments of this generally
conformable sequence are excellent hydrocarbon
source rocks.
A characteristic feature of the Banda Association in
all four areas is the presence of a major unconformity

encompassing most, if not all, of the Late Jurassic


and often much of the Middle Jurassic and Early
Cretaceous. Sediments immediately above this
unconformity are generally shales, often with
radiolaria, but quickly give way to condensed
sequences of carbonates with cherts, deposited in
environments remote from sources of clastic
sedimentation. Sedimentation of this type continued
into the Paleogene but terminated when these rifted
fragments of Australia collided with the Sundaland
margin near what is now western Sulawesi. The
subsequent history of the Banda Association can be
interpreted in terms of post-orogenic collapse and
dispersal with opening of the Banda Sea, with early
molasse deposition and, in some cases, eventual
collision with the advancing Australian margin
around the Banda Arc. Analogues of this process can
be found in the Mediterranean sector of the Tethyan
collision belt.
Based on these concepts, a number of propositions,
testable by a detailed and focused programme of
investigation, can be advanced to provide a
framework for future exploration in the regions
surrounding the Banda Sea. These are:
= That the Cretaceous sediments of East Sulawesi
are not part of the ophiolite sequence but are
direct equivalents of Cretaceous sediments of
Buru, Buton and Seram.
= That metamorphic rocks upon which the Triassic
sediments of Buru, Buton and Seram were
deposited are equivalents of the Pompangeo
Schist of eastern Sulawesi.
= That Mesozoic sediments of Buton, Buru, Seram
and East Sulawesi contain similar and distinctive
faunal assemblages recording their common
history in a microcontinent which rifted away
from the Australian continent during the Late
Jurassic, arrived in the Tethyan realm in the latest
Cretaceous, and collided with West Sulawesi in
the mid-Tertiary.
Exploration for hydrocarbons around the Banda Sea
should therefore be concentrated on those areas
where Triassic sediments were deposited at the
former Australian margin. However, the island of
Timor remains an enigma. Some elements were
clearly derived from the Paleogene Sundaland

margin, but most of the material exposed is of


Australian origin. Some of the latter may represent
further fragments of the Banda Association, but there
has also been significant transfer of material from the
Australian Plate to Eurasia during the most recent and
continuing collision.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Field work on Buru was funded by the University of
London Consortium for Geological Research in
Southeast Asia. Collaboration in the field of Suyoko
and Aris Susilo, of the Geological Research and
Development Centre, Bandung, and of Agus Guntoro,
of Trisakti University, is gratefully acknowledged.

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FIGURE 1 - Rapid extension in a collisional environment. The Banda Sea and its western Tethys analogues.