Growth and Submarine Fossilization of Algal Cup Reefs, Bermuda

  1. Maurice E. Tucker3 and
  2. Robin G. C. Bathurst4
  1. R. N. Ginsburg1 and
  2. Johannes H. Schroeder2

Published Online: 29 APR 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444304510.ch6

Carbonate Diagenesis

Carbonate Diagenesis

How to Cite

Ginsburg, R. N. and Schroeder, J. H. (1990) Growth and Submarine Fossilization of Algal Cup Reefs, Bermuda, in Carbonate Diagenesis (eds M. E. Tucker and R. G. C. Bathurst), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444304510.ch6

Editor Information

  1. 3

    Department of Geological Sciences, University of Durham, UK

  2. 4

    Derwen Deg Fawr, Llanfair DC, Ruthin, Clwyd, North Wales, UK

Author Information

  1. 1

    Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida 33149, USA

  2. 2

    Institut für Geologie und Paläontologie, Technische Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 29 APR 2009
  2. Published Print: 21 AUG 1990

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780632029389

Online ISBN: 9781444304510



  • growth and submarine fossilization of algal cup reefs - Bermuda;
  • Foraminifera and planktonic algae, occurring in smaller voids;
  • explosives, sectioning cup-shaped reefs;
  • algal cup reefs of Bermuda, demonstrating reef-building ability;
  • submarine fossilization


Small charges of explosives were used to section cup-shaped reefs that occur on the margins of the Bermuda Platform. Study of these artificial outcrops, up to 10 m high, and the samples collected from them show how the reef-building community is rapidly converted to well-lithified reef rock in the marine development.

The reefs, known locally as boilers and breakers, occur along the wave-swept south shore of the Bermuda Islands and around the northeast and northwest margins of the Platform. They are cup-shaped, up to 30 m in long dimensions, and rise up to the sea surface as much as 12 m above the surrounding sea floor. The reefs are built by an intergrowth of encrusting organisms, principally crustose coralline algae, an encrusting hydrozoan, Millepora sp., and an attached gastropod, Dendropoma irregulare.

The growth framework of these algal cup reefs has extensive voids: large and intermediate-sized growth framework and shelter pores; borings of bivalves and sponges; and both intra- and inter-particle pores. A variety of vagile and sessile organisms (coelobites) inhabit these pores: an encrusting Foraminifera, Homotrema rubrum, is the most abundant attached coelobite; the tests of a variety of benthic Foraminifera and ostracods are common: branched coralline algae, barnacles, bivalves, ahermatypic corals, bryozoans, and burrowing crustaceans occur in varying abundance.

Beginning millimetres below the living surface, internal sediments accumulate in the extensive voids. Coarse-grained skeletal sand derived from the surface of the reefs is characteristic of the larger voids; lime mud with the tests of planktonic Foraminifera and planktonic algae occurs generally in the smaller voids. Most specimens from the interior of the reefs show multiple generations of internal sediment that vary in grain size, composition, and colour. The sand-sized sediments are pumped into the voids by the frequent and intense wave action; the lime mud settles out in the smaller, less agitated pores.

Cementation of internal sediments and surrounding growth frame begins centimetres below the living surface; it is so pervasive that marble-hard reef rock is developed within ½ m or less. The cement is principally high-magnesium calcite of micrite size, and subordinately acicular aragonite, but there are locally wide variations in crystal size and morphology. The occurrence of the cement within the reefs well below sea level, the isotope ratios of the cement crystals, the mineralogy, and the age inferred from radiocarbon age determinations of the growth frame all indicate that the cement is submarine and deposited from water of oceanic composition.

The algal cup reefs of Bermuda demonstrate the reef-building ability of a community of encrusting organisms that form only crusts in the intertidal zone of the Mediterranean and Northern Brazil. The cup reefs of the northern margins of the Bermuda Platform are true reefs, not merely veneers covering eroded blocks of Pleistocene limestone. In their composition, location, and early diagenesis, the cup reefs closely resemble the algal or lithothamnion ridge of Pacific atolls. Synsedimentary cementation of internal sediments and growth frame makes a major contribution to the rigidity of these ocean-facing reefs and atoll rims.

The assemblage of features that characterize the submarine fossilization of the cup reefs is widespread elsewhere in the modern seas: the floors of the Persian Gulf and parts of the Mediterranean; the margins of Pacific atolls; and the reefs off the north coast of Jamaica. This fossilization is characterized by reiterated generations of coelobites, internal sediments, and synsedimentary cements that can in time replace a major part of the original growth framework. Major variations in the sequence of these generations from pore to pore is the signature of this kind of fossilization. The same features of fossilization are described from reefs in the Devonian, Permian, and Triassic.