Abstract

Bryozoan reef mounds are common features in the geological record, occurring within mid-ramp, slope paleoenvironments, especially in Paleozoic carbonate successions, but until now have not been recorded from the modern ocean. Recent scientific drilling in the Great Australian Bight (Ocean Drilling Program Leg 182) has confirmed the existence of shallow subsurface bryozoan reef mounds in modern water depths of 200–350 m. These structures have as much as 65 m of synoptic relief, and occur both as single mounds and as mound complexes. They are unlithified, have a floatstone texture, and are rich in delicate branching, encrusting and/or nodular-arborescent, flat-robust branching, fenestrate, and articulated zooidal bryozoan growth forms. The muddy matrix is composed of foraminifers, serpulids, fecal pellets, irregular bioclasts, sponge spicules, and calcareous nannofossils. The 14C accelerator mass spectrometry dates of 26.6–35.1 ka indicate that the most recent mounds, the tops of which are 7–10 m below the modern seafloor, flourished during the last glacial lowstand but perished during transgressive sea-level rise. This history reflects changing oceanographic current patterns; strong upwelling during lowstands, and reduced upwelling and lowered trophic resources during highstands. Large specimens of benthic foraminifers restricted to the mounds confirm overall mesotrophic growth conditions. The mounds are similar in geometry, scale, general composition, and paleoenvironments to older structures, but lack obvious microbial influence and extensive synsedimentary cementation. Such differences reflect either short-term local conditions or long-term temporal changes in ocean chemistry and biology.

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