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Coral reef evolution on rapidly subsiding margins

January 1, 2009

A series of well-developed submerged coral reefs are preserved in the Huon Gulf (Papua New Guinea) and around Hawaii. Despite different tectonics settings, both regions have experienced rapid subsidence (2-6??m/ka) over the last 500??ka. Rapid subsidence, combined with eustatic sea-level changes, is responsible for repeated drowning and backstepping of coral reefs over this period. Because we can place quantitative constraints on these systems (i.e., reef drowning age, eustatic sea-level changes, subsidence rates, accretion rates, basement substrates, and paleobathymetry), these areas represent unique natural laboratories for exploring the roles of tectonics, reef accretion, and eustatic sea-level changes in controlling the evolution of individual reefs, as well as backstepping of the entire system. A review of new and existing bathymetric, radiometric, sedimentary facies and numerical modeling data indicate that these reefs have had long, complex growth histories and that they are highly sensitive, recording drowning not only during major deglaciations, but also during high-frequency, small-amplitude interstadial and deglacial meltwater pulse events. Analysis of five generalized sedimentary facies shows that reef drowning is characterized by a distinct biological and sedimentary sequence. Observational and numerical modeling data indicate that on precessional (20??ka) and sub-orbital timescales, the rate and amplitude of eustatic sea-level changes are critical in controlling initiation, growth, drowning or sub-aerial exposure, subsequent re-initiation, and final drowning. However, over longer timescales (> 100-500??ka) continued tectonic subsidence and basement substrate morphology influence broad scale reef morphology and backstepping geometries. Drilling of these reefs will yield greatly expanded stratigraphic sections compared with similar reefs on slowly subsiding, stable and uplifting margins, and thus they represent a unique archive of sea-level and climate changes, as well as a record of the response of coral reefs to these changes over the last six glacial cycles. ?? 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Publication Year 2009
Title Coral reef evolution on rapidly subsiding margins
DOI 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2008.07.010
Authors J.M. Webster, J.C. Braga, D. A. Clague, C. Gallup, J. R. Hein, D.C. Potts, W. Renema, R. Riding, K. Riker-Coleman, E. Silver, L.M. Wallace
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global and Planetary Change
Index ID 70036029
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse