Major coral reef complexes rim many modern and ancient carbonate platforms. Their role in margin evolution is not fully understood, particularly when they border a margin atypical of the classic model. Classic windward margins are steeply inclined. The windward margin of southeast Florida is distinct with a very low-gradient slope and a shelf edge ringed with 30-m-high Quaternary outlier reefs on a shallow upper-slope terrace. A newly developed synthesis of temporally well-constrained geologic events is used with surface and subsurface seismic-reflection contours to construct morphogenetic models of four discontinuous reef-complex sequences. The models show uneven subsurface topography, upward and landward buildups, and a previously unreported, rapid, Holocene pro-gradation. The terms backstepped reef-complex margin, backfilled prograded margin, and coalesced reef-complex margin are proposed for sections exhibiting suitable signatures in the stratigraphic record. The models have significant implications for interpretation of ancient analogues.
The Florida record chronicles four kinds of geologic events. (1) Thirteen transgressions high enough for marine deposition occurred between ca. 325 ka and the present. Six gave rise to stratigraphically successive coral reef complexes between ca. 185 and ca. 77.8 ka. The seventh reef ecosystem is Holocene. (2) Two primary coral reef architectures built the outer shelf and margin, producing respective ridge-and-swale and reef-and-trough geometries of very different scales. (3) Massive outlier reefs developed on an upper-slope terrace between ca. 106.5 and ca. 80 ka and are inferred to contain corals that would date to highstands at ca. 140 and 125 ka. (4) Sea level remained below elevation of the shelf between ca. 77.8 and ca. 9.6 ka.