Alternating seismic uplift and subsidence in the late Holocene at Madang, Papua New Guinea: Evidence from raised reefs

Alexander Tudhope, R. W. Buddemeier, Colin Chilcott, K. R. Berryman, D. G. Fautin, M. Jebb, J. H. Lipps, T. P. Scoffin, G. B. Shimmield

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Well-preserved mid-late Holocene coral reefs are exposed in low coastal cliffs in the vicinity of the Madang lagoon on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. Results from U/Th and 14C dating of corals, surveying, and field mapping indicate several major changes in relative sea level over this period. Specifically, there is evidence for a relative sea level fall of ≥4.5 m about 3000 calendar years B.P., followed by relative sea level rises of ∼1.5 m about 2400 calendar years B.P. and ≥0.5 m about 1200 calendar years B.P. and a subsequent relative sea level fall of ≥3 m some time in the past 1000 years. Since regional eustatic sea levels are believed to have been dropping gradually over this time frame, these observed changes in relative sea level are interpreted as reflecting alternating tectonic uplift and subsidence. Furthermore, the detailed structure and age relationships of the coral deposits indicate that both uplift and subsidence occurred rapidly, most probably as coseismic events with vertical displacements of 0.5 to 4.5 m. These events may be related to rupture on NW-SE trending reverse faults which have been mapped in the nearby Adelbert Range and possibly on NE trending cross faults which have been inferred from seismicity. This interpretation implies a much greater degree of tectonic instability and potential seismic hazard in the region than previously recognized, although the inferred coseismic vertical displacements are shown to be consistent with present-day local seismicity. In a broader context, the study illustrates how detailed analysis of vertical changes in coral reef structure and assemblages may be used as a sensitive indicator of changing relative sea level, capable of resolving century timescale events and reversals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13797-13807
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue numberB6
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2000


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