Abstract

We developed a Late Cretaceous sea- level estimate from Upper Cretaceous sequences at Bass River and Ancora, New Jersey (ODP [Ocean Drilling Program] Leg 174AX). We dated 11–14 sequences by integrating Sr isotope and biostratigraphy (age resolution ±0.5 m.y.) and then estimated paleoenvironmental changes within the sequences from lithofacies and biofacies analyses. Sequences generally shallow up-section from middle-neritic to inner-neritic paleodepths, as shown by the transition from thin basal glauconite shelf sands (transgressive systems tracts [TST]), to medial-prodelta silty clays (highstand systems tracts [HST]), and finally to upper–delta-front quartz sands (HST). Sea-level estimates obtained by backstripping (accounting for paleodepth variations, sediment loading, compaction, and basin subsidence) indicate that large (>25 m) and rapid (≪1 m.y.) sea-level variations occurred during the Late Cretaceous greenhouse world. The fact that the timing of Upper Cretaceous sequence boundaries in New Jersey is similar to the sea-level lowering records of Exxon Production Research Company (EPR), northwest European sections, and Russian platform outcrops points to a global cause. Because backstripping, seismicity, seismic stratigraphic data, and sediment-distribution patterns all indicate minimal tectonic effects on the New Jersey Coastal Plain, we interpret that we have isolated a eustatic signature. The only known mechanism that can explain such global changes— glacio-eustasy—is consistent with foraminiferal δ18O data. Either continental ice sheets paced sea-level changes during the Late Cretaceous, or our understanding of causal mechanisms for global sea-level change is fundamentally flawed. Comparison of our eustatic history with published ice-sheet models and Milankovitch predictions suggests that small (5–10 × 106 km3), ephemeral, and areally restricted Antarctic ice sheets paced the Late Cretaceous global sea-level change. New Jersey and Russian eustatic estimates are typically one-half of the EPR amplitudes, though this difference varies through time, yielding markedly different eustatic curves. We conclude that New Jersey provides the best available estimate for Late Cretaceous sea-level variations.

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