Geochronology and subsurface stratigraphy of Pukapuka and Rakahanga atolls, Cook Islands: Late Quaternary reef growth and sea level history
Eustatic sea-level cycles superposed on thermal subsidence of an atoll produce layers of high sea-level reefs separated by erosional unconformities. Coral samples from these reefs from cores drilled to 50 m beneath the lagoons of Pukapuka and Rakahanga atolls, northern Cook Islands give electron spin resonance (ESR) and U-series ages ranging from the Holocene to 600,000 yr B.P. Subgroups of these ages and the stratigraphic position of their bounding unconformities define at least 5 periods of reef growth and high sea-level (0–9000 yr B.P., 125,000–180,000 yr B.P., 180,000–230,000 yr B.P., 300,000–460,000 yr B.P., 460,000–650,000 yr B.P.). Only two ages fall within error of the last interglacial high sea-level stand (∼125,000–135,000 yr B.P.). This paucity of ages may result from extensive erosion of the last intergracial reef. In addition, post-depositional isotope exchange may have altered the time ages of three coral samples to apparent ages that fall within glacial stage 6. For the record to be preserved, vertical accretion during rising sea-level must compensate for surface lowering from erosion during sea-level lowstands and subsidence of the atoll; erosion rates (6–63 cm/1000 yr) can therefore be calculated from reef accretion rates (100–400 cm/1000 yr), subsidence rates (2–6 cm/1000 yr), and the duration of island submergence (8–15% of the last 600,000 yr). The stratigraphy of coral ages indicates island subsidence rates of 4.5 ± 2.8 cm/1000 yr for both islands. A model of reef growth and erosion based on the stratigraphy of the Cook Islands atolls suggests average subsidence and erosion rates of between 3–6 and 15–20 cm/1000 yr, respectively.
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