History of the New Caledonia Barrier Reef over the last 1.2Myrs: links with regional palaeoceanography and palaeoclimate
Foan, Amanda Gillian
The timing of glacial-interglacial cycles shows a clear dependence on the periodic variations in the Earth’s orbital parameters. However, the Earth’s climate is an extremely complex, non-linear system, with many internal feedback mechanisms and there are still features of the climate record for which a definitive explanation remains elusive. Understanding reef history is important due to significant predicted feedbacks between changes in global climate and carbonate production via the carbon cycle; phases of rapid reef growth in shallow water areas being associated with increased release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Previous work on Pleistocene reef history, investigated via reef boreholes, shows a large global expansion of reefs between 800-400ka; approximately concurrent with one of the major unexplained alterations in the climate system, the Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT). Quaternary reef history is usually investigated via reef boreholes, which provide limited spatial information and are subject to dating uncertainties of the order of ±100kyrs. This means that any inferences made about the relationship between reef expansion and specific changes in the climate system are not well constrained. This thesis instead, presents a novel approach to reconstructing reef growth history, using a trial site near the island of New Caledonia, in the south west Pacific. The initiation of carbonate production on shallow shelves is known to produce a signal in the surrounding deeper basins, via sediment shedding. Therefore, this research set out to independently verify the proposed expansion of the New Caledonia Barrier Reef at ~ 400ka (Marine Isotope Stage [MIS] 11) by examining the composition of turbidites deposited in the New Caledonia Trough. Deep sea sediment core MD06-3019, was collected south west of the New Caledonia Barrier Reef (22oS, 165oE; 3,500m water depth). It is predominantly composed of pelagic carbonate ooze, into which 79 sandy turbidite layers have been deposited. These layers interrupt, but do not disturb, the background sedimentation and source material from the shallow shelf, which is carried to the deep sea via submarine canyons. A core age model based principally on orbital tuning, yields a core bottom age of 1,260ka, ~MIS38. This chronology has allowed the timing of deposition of the turbidite layers within the core to be assigned to within ±10kyr. Turbidite layers vary in width (1-35cm), grain size (φ=4 to -2) and composition, containing among other shelf derived material, well preserved coral fragments from 1.26Ma through to the present day. Patterns in turbidite timing and frequency, grain size and composition (investigated via point counting, carbonate coulometry and aragonite content) have been analysed, to assess whether there are any temporal changes which may reflect variation in shallow shelf reef extent. This included the development of XRF scanning measurements for [Sr], as a new proxy for the aragonite content of samples. A calibration line with the equation: Aragonite %=0.0011* Sr count +2.64 (R2 =0.6105, p-value < 0.001) was obtained for turbidite samples from sediment core MD06-3019. The method shows significant promise as a new proxy for quickly establishing the aragonite content of sediment samples. Corroborating the work of previous investigators, turbidites deposited since MIS11 show an increase in average bulk carbonate and aragonite content, a greater dominance of shallow water bioclasts and a higher occurrence of coral fragments. Additionally, both coarse and fine grained turbidites are present, whereas directly before this period only fine grained turbidites occur. However, there is another significant shift in depositional style further back in the record. Prior to MIS23 both coarse and fine grained turbidites are present, the average carbonate content of turbidite layers is higher and there is a greater dominance of shallow water biota. Coral abundance for turbidites at the base of the core can equal values for turbidites at the top of the core. These results challenge the assumption that the only significant evolution on the western New Caledonia margin over the last 1.2Myrs was the expansion of the barrier reef at MIS11. This suggests that the history of the western New Caledonia margin may be more complicated than initially anticipated. These temporal variations in turbidite deposition are interpreted as reflecting changes in the level of carbonate production on the shallow shelf over the course of the 1.26Myr record. Shallow water carbonate production having decreased substantially during the period MIS23-MIS11. There are many possible controls on the shallow water carbonate production; such as: sea surface temperature and salinity, sea-level and nutrient availability. However, it is hypothesised that the principal control is glacial-interglacial sea-level change. It is proposed that prior to MIS23 sea-level was high enough during certain interglacial periods for significant carbonate production to occur on the shelf. However, from MIS23 onwards the climate proceeded into a period of ‘lukewarm’ interglacials which were both cooler and had lower sea-levels. It is hypothesised that during this period sea-level did not rise enough during highstands to flood the shelf sufficiently to allow for significant shallow water carbonate production. The high sea-levels of the long, warm MIS11then allowed for the expansion of the barrier reef (perhaps on substrates provided by former siliciclastic coast lines, deposited between MIS23-11) and its continuation during subsequent interglacial periods until the current day. This pattern of shallow shelf carbonate production is similar to those proposed for the Belize margin and the Gulf of Papua over the last 1.2Myrs. This thesis provides one of the first detailed investigations of gravity deposits in the New Caledonia Trough, providing information on their composition and timing over an unprecedented 1.26Myr time period. This study demonstrates that deep sea turbidites, sourced from shallow shelf areas, can be used to help reconstruct tropical reef growth histories. The results corroborate the work of previous researchers in the area and provide new insights into the history of reefs along the western New Caledonian margin. The main advantage of this method, compared to traditional borehole techniques, is the 10-fold reduction in the age uncertainty of events, to ±10 kyr. In addition, because turbidite material is sourced from a wide area along the coast, the method is able to provide information on reef history over a larger spatial area than single reef boreholes. This method can now be extended globally to help improve knowledge of the timing and history of tropical reef growth during the Quaternary. This will enable a better understanding of how reefs have impacted on, and been affected by, changes in climate, linked by feedbacks mechanisms via the global carbon cycle.