Age-progressive volcanism in the Tasman and Coral seas

Friday, 19 December 2014
Simon Williams1, Phillip B Gans2, Nicholas Nick Mortimer3, Sebastien Meffre4 and Maria Seton1, (1)University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, (2)University of California Santa Barbara, Department of Earth Science, Santa Barbara, CA, United States, (3)GNS Science, Dunedin, New Zealand, (4)University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
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.