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Seismic reflection, bathymetry, acoustic imagery and magnetic data are presented that encompass the boundary between rifting of the Papuan continent and westward propagating sea-floor spreading in the Woodlark Basin. West of the spreading tip, the southern margin is characterized by large fault blocks, which were tilted to the south on north-dipping normal faults during the current rifting phase, and graben further south where previous rifting failed. The northern margin is devoid of large offset normal faults and its subsidence from near sea level requires synrift flow of the lower crust. The margin asymmetry primarily reflects across-strike differences in the prerift geology, morphology and rheology. Horst and graben with 3 km relief below sea level occur adjacent to the spreading tip. Although heat flow data imply greater crustal thinning to the south of Moresby continental seamount, seismicity shows that deformation is currently focused on the Moresby normal fault that bounds its northern side. Based on logging results from ODP Leg 180 and semblance analysis, depth conversion of seismic reflection data show that Moresby Fault has a dip ≥29°, which is compatible with an earthquake slip plane of 30°–33°. Directly east of Moresby Seamount, the first spreading segment is identified on the basis of magnetic, bathymetry and sidescan data to comprise two ring dykes in the west and Cheshire Seamount in the east. A seismic reflection line crossing the western ring dyke shows an intrusive body that cuts Moresby Fault at depth. Currently, intrusive rocks have only reached the surface near the ring dyke, leaving flat-lying synrift sediments, sills (?) and surface lava flows overlying the main intrusive body. The boundary between continental rifting and sea-floor spreading in the Woodlark Basin is spatially abrupt, although the processes overlap in time. The progression from rifting to spreading is characterized by a decrease in sedimentation as the margins are progressively thinned, subside below sea level, are eroded less and trap sediments in proximal basins. The post-rift sedimentation near the continent–ocean boundary is hemipelagic and drapes breakup topography without a distinct breakup unconformity. Synrift sediments, deposited above the 8.4 Ma rift onset unconformity and prior to breakup, are characterized by rotated sections (with parallel or diverging reflectors) as well as by ponded sections that onlap bounding fault blocks where local extension has ceased. Splayed reflectors representing sediment deposition on rotating fault blocks do not characterize the full synrift section, but only those times and places where extension is localized.

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