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A dynamic process for drowning carbonate reefs on the northeastern Australian margin

DiCaprio, Lydia and Müller, R. Dietmar and Gurnis, Michael (2010) A dynamic process for drowning carbonate reefs on the northeastern Australian margin. Geology, 38 (1). pp. 11-14. ISSN 0091-7613. doi:10.1130/G30217.1.

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Drowned carbonate reefs on passive margins are puzzling because of their enormous growth potential compared to typical rates of passive margin subsidence and moderate sea-level fluctuations. A possible solution to this paradox is that slow processes acting over geologic time weaken reefs and contribute to their ultimate demise. The Australian northeastern marginal plateaus, known for their drowned reefs, underwent a period of accelerated tectonic subsidence during the late Miocene to Pliocene that, combined with a sequence of second-order global sea-level rises, outpaced reef growth and drowned the once-thriving Miocene carbonate platforms. However, the mechanism for the observed anomalous subsidence of this relatively mature passive margin 1000 km from the nearest plate boundary is uncertain. We use a coupled plate, kinematic mantle flow model to show that in the late Miocene northeastern Australia overrode subducted slabs from Eocene Melanesian subduction north of Papua New Guinea. We find that the rate of surface subsidence induced by the sinking slabs increases the likelihood that relative sea-level rises outpaced late Miocene reef growth. In addition to the well-known effects of long-term plate processes and short-term global sea-level and climate change, our results demonstrate that deep Earth processes can play a substantial role in driving the evolution of passive margins and coral reefs.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle
Müller, R. Dietmar0000-0002-3334-5764
Gurnis, Michael0000-0003-1704-597X
Additional Information:© 2010 Geological Society of America. Manuscript received 9 March 2009. Revised manuscript received 12 July 2009. Manuscript accepted 22 July 2009. This project benefited from software infrastructure development support by AuScope ( as well as CIG (Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics; The article was improved by constructive reviews from W.P. Schellart and one anonymous reviewer. Research funding was provided by Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant DP0987713 and U.S. National Science Foundation grant EAR-0810303. DiCaprio was supported by the Australian Research Council Australian Postgraduate Award administered by the University of Sydney. This work represents Contribution 10020 of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences and Contribution 115 of the Tectonics Observatory, California Institute of Technology.
Group:Caltech Tectonics Observatory, Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Australian Research CouncilDP0987713
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Other Numbering System NameOther Numbering System ID
Caltech Tectonics Observatory115
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20100129-145642085
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:17357
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:08 Feb 2010 19:41
Last Modified:08 Nov 2021 23:35

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