Age-progressive volcanism in the Tasman and Coral seas
Abstract:The South West Pacific is the site of widespread Cenozoic volcanism, much of which has formed without a clear spatio-temporal pattern. Exceptions to this overall trend are found in the Tasman Sea, where two chains of age-progressive volcanism are present, the Tasmantids and the Lord Howe seamount chain (LHSC). Both of these follow broadly north-south co-linear trends, recording rapid northwards motion of the Australian plate since >24 Ma. The bathymetric expression of the volcanic trails can be traced northwards towards the Coral Sea, which hosts a complex tapestry of poorly sampled plateaux and rises whose relationship to hotspot volcanism remains enigmatic.
We present the results of a marine geophysical and dredging survey to the eastern Coral Sea onboard the RV Southern Surveyor in October-November, 2012. We constrain the timing of basin opening in the South Rennell Trough and Santa Cruz Basin to between ~43-28 Ma, using a combination of magnetic anomaly profiles, seafloor fabric from swath bathymetry data, Ar-Ar dating of basalts and paleontological dating of carbonates. The evolution of this spreading system corresponds to the opening of the Solomon Sea further north, where chrons 19-16 have been identified, suggesting the existence of a single > 2,000 km long back-arc basin.
Rocks dredged from the northernmost volcanoes of the LHSC, close to the southern end of the South Rennell Trough, are dated at ~27-28 Ma. Geochemically the LHSC lavas are intraplate tholeiites and contrast with older E-MORB-type basalts formed at the ultra-slow spreading South Rennell Trough until ~28 Ma. These are the oldest rocks recovered from the LHSC, and their age confirms predictions from absolute plate motion modeling.