Deep water geomorphology of the mixed siliciclastic-carbonate system, Gulf of Papua



[1] The Gulf of Papua (GoP) has become a focal point for understanding the deposition and accumulation of siliciclastic and carbonate material along and across a low-latitude continental margin. Although studies have addressed submarine geomorphological features on the inner and middle shelves, as well as processes that may have led to their formation, the seafloor of adjacent slope regions remains poorly documented. This study presents and interprets results from approximately 13,000 line-km of multibeam bathymetry, 9500 line-km of 3.5 kHz seismic, and 122 sediment cores that were collected from the GoP shelf edge and slope, primarily on two cruises (PANASH and PECTEN). Bathymetric maps, in conjunction with the seismic profiles and cores, were used to make extensive observations, descriptions, and interpretations of seafloor geomorphology and begin to address several key issues regarding the delivery and accumulation of sediment. This study divided the GoP slope region into physiographic regions including intraslope basins: Ashmore Trough, southern Pandora Trough, northern Pandora Trough, Moresby Trough and intraslope plateaus/platforms: carbonate platforms and atolls and Eastern Plateau. Ashmore Trough contains a very linear northern margin capped by a drowned barrier reef system. This shelf edge is also defined by a broad promontory with channels extending from its apex, interpreted as a relict shelf-edge delta. Southern Pandora Trough is characterized by pervasive slope channels and slump scars extending down slope to a thick depocenter and an extensive mass-transport complex. In contrast, northern Pandora Trough has few visible slope channels. Seismic observations reveal a wedge of sediment extending down slope from northern Pandora Trough shelf edge and filling preexisting bathymetry. Large fold-and-thrust-belt ridges are also present on the seafloor in this region and may act to divert and/or catch sediment, depending on sediment transport direction. Moresby Trough contains a large axial submarine channel that extends almost the entire length of the intraslope basin. In addition, an extensive system of canyons lines the NE margin of Moresby Trough. Mass-transport deposits have been fed from the canyons and in one case deposited a large (∼2000 km2) mass-transport complex. Fold-and-thrust-belt ridges also extend into Moresby Trough. Here they trend perpendicular to slope and catch gravity flow deposits on their updip side. GoP carbonate platforms/atolls all display very pronounced scalloped-margin morphology, which may indicate pervasive mass-wasting processes on carbonate margins. Northwest Eastern Plateau is dominantly carbonate and displays the characteristic scalloped margin morphology; however, most of the plateau is characterized by parallel seismic reflectors. These seismic observations in conjunction with core data indicate that accumulation on Eastern Plateau is primarily mixed pelagic and hemipelagic sediment. Observations and interpretations of the bathymetry have revealed the deep water GoP to contain very diverse geomorphology and suggest it is a dynamic system influenced by a variety of sediment transport processes, particularly mass wasting and other gravity flow processes.