Drowned carbonate platforms in the Huon Gulf, Papua New Guinea

Jody M. Webster, Kristin Riker-Coleman, Christina Gallup, Laura Wallace, Juan Carlos Braga, Eli Silver, Bruce Applegate, Donald Potts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The western Huon Gulf, Papua New Guinea, is an actively subsiding foreland basin dominated by drowned carbonate platforms. We investigated these platforms using new high-resolution multibeam, side-scan sonar and seismic data, combined with submersible observations and previously published radiometric and sedimentary facies data. The data reveal 14 distinct drowned carbonate platforms and numerous pinnacles/banks that increase in age (∼20-450 kyr) and depth (0.1-2.5 km) NE toward the Ramu-Markham Trench. Superimposed on this overall downward flexing of the platforms toward the trench is a systematic tilting of the deep platforms 15 m/km toward the NW and the shallow platforms 2 m/km toward the SE. This may reflect the encroaching thrust load from the NW (Finisterre Range) and spatial variations in the flexural rigidity of the underlying basement. The drowned platforms form a complex system of promontories and reentrants, with abundant pinnacles and banks preserved at similar depths seaward of the main platforms. This configuration closely mimics the present-day Huon coastline and its seaward islands fringed by modern coral reefs. The platforms retain structural, morphologic, and sedimentary facies evidence of primary platform growth, drowning, and subsequent backstepping, despite some lateral erosion of the platform margins (<100 m slope defacement) by mass wasting. Both platforms and pinnacles are composite features containing multiple terrace levels and notches, corresponding to multiple phases of growth, emergence, and drowning in response to rapid climatic and sea level changes during the evolution of each structure. On the basis of all observational and numerical modeling data, we propose a chronology for the initiation, growth, and drowning of the 14 platforms. Over shorter timescales (≤100 kyr) the rate and amplitude of eustatic sea level changes are critical in controlling initiation, growth, drowning or subaerial exposure, subsequent reinitiation, and final drowning of the platforms. However, continued tectonic subsidence and basement substrate morphology influence the overall backstepping geometry and subsequent tilting of the platforms over longer timescales (≥ 100-500 kyr).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberQ11008
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Carbonate platform
  • Convergent tectonics
  • Huon Gulf
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Reef drowning
  • Sea level change


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