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In modern oceans, the transition zone between the tropical and temperate carbonate province is gradual and covers a wide latitudinal belt. Little knowledge exists regarding the geological signatures of this zone. This paper describes a late Miocene (early Tortonian–early Messinian) transitional carbonate system that combines elements of the tropical and cool-water carbonate systems (Iraklion Basin, island of Crete, Greece). As documented in stratal geometries, the submarine topography of the basin was controlled by tilting blocks. Coral reefs formed by Porites and Tarbellastrea occurred in a narrow clastic coastal belt along a central Cretan landmass and steep escarpments formed by faulting. On the gentle dip-slope ramps of those blocks having the widest geographical distribution within the basin, extensive covers of level-bottom communities existed in a low-energy environment. Isolated colonial corals were present in the shallow segments of the ramps. Consistent patterns of landward and basinward shift of coastal onlap in all outcrop studies reveal an overriding control of third- and fourth-order sea-level changes on sediment dynamics and facies distributions over block movements. An increasingly dry climate and the complex submarine topography of the fault-block mosaic kept sediment and nutrient discharge from a central Cretan landmass at a minimum. The skeletal limestone facies therefore reflects oligotrophic conditions and sea surface temperatures near the lower threshold temperature of coral reefs in a climatic position transitional between the tropical coral reef belt and the temperate zone. It is suggested that the recognition of an overall late Miocene aridification trend helps to explain the Mediterranean-wide distribution of shallow-marine carbonates, both cool-water and warm-water, in settings adjacent to uplifting mountain ranges (intramontane basins).

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