Sedimentology of the Miocene Nullarbor Limestone; Southern Australia
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The Miocene Nullarbor Limestone is the most recent formation in the Cenozoic Eucla Group and was deposited in the Eucla Basin, southern Australia, at ~38°S paleolatitude during the early to middle Miocene. The rocks form the modern surface of the vast, karsted Nullarbor Plain. Older Eucla Group marine carbonates (Eocene-earliest Miocene) are cool-water in nature and dominated by bryozoans and echinoderms. The Nullarbor Limestone is subtropical in composition and rich in coralline algae (rhodoliths and articulated types), large and small benthic foraminifera and molluscs. Diverse zooxanthellate corals are also present but not numerous. Deposition is interpreted to have taken place in three main paleoenvironments: rhodolith gravels, seagrass banks, and open seafloors. The Southern Ocean extended inboard ~450 km from the shelf edge during Nullarbor Limestone deposition. Interpreted paleodepths ranged from the top to the base of the photic zone, implying a small slope over a wide shelf. The Miocene Eucla platform is therefore interpreted to have been epeiric in nature. Paleoenvironment distribution is explained using epeiric platform sedimentation patterns and comparisons with modern environments. Open seafloor environments, the deepest settings, are thought to have been below fair-weather wave base. Rhodolith gravels accumulated at intermediate depths, where waves frequently swept the seafloor. Seagrass banks developed in the shallowest waters farthest inboard, where wave energy had been largely dissipated. Diverse corals, large benthic foraminifera and micrite envelopes inboard and in the western part of the basin support the notion of paleotemperatures generally above 20°C, the upper limit of subtropical carbonate accumulation. Although deposition occurred during the Miocene Climatic Optimum, a simple overall temperature increase cannot completely account for the subtropical nature of these sediments at mid-latitudes. Tropical components decrease from west to east, implying a temperature gradient, probably due to the warm proto-Leeuwin Current. Thus, these subtropical carbonates were deposited at mid-latitudes and their presence did not simply reflect a change in global climate.