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Compaction (geology) refers to the process by which a sediment progressively loses its porosity due to the effects of loading. This forms part of the process of lithification. When a layer of sediment is originally deposited, it contains an open framework of particles with the pore space being usually filled with water. As more sediment is deposited above the layer, the effect of the increased loading is to increase the particle-to-particle stresses resulting in porosity reduction primarily through a more efficient packing of the particles and to a lesser extent through elastic compression and pressure solution. The initial porosity of a sediment depends on its lithology. Mudstones start with porosities of >60%, sandstones typically ~40% and carbonates sometimes as high as 70%. Results from hydrocarbon exploration wells show clear porosity reduction trends with depth .

Differential compaction

If there is a variation in thickness and compactability of a sequence, loading by later deposits will give rise to spatially varying amounts of compaction. Both the thickness and structure of the later sequence will be controlled by the underlying geology in the absence of any active tectonics. Buried tilted fault blocks in a rift basin often produce large anticlinal closures in the post-rift section that may form traps for hydrocarbons e.g. the Daqing Field, the largest oil field in the People's Republic of Chinamarker (PRC), in the Songliao Basin .


  1. Sclater, J.G. & Christie, P.A.F. 1980. Continental stretching: an explanation of the post-mid-Cretaceous subsidence of the Central North Sea Basin. Journal of Geophysical Research, 85, 3711–3739
  2.| USGS report on the Songliao Basin

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