Abstract

The Early Permian tectonic history of eastern Australia led to the formation of several orogenic curvatures termed the New England oroclines. How these oroclines formed is a controversial issue that is crucial for understanding the paleo-Pacific subduction dynamics at the Gondwanan margin and the formation of curved orogenic belts in general. Here we present new constraints on the role of vertical-axis block rotations in the New England oroclines using paleocurrent indicators from the core of the oroclinal structure (the Nambucca block). Focusing on the lower sedimentary succession within the Nambucca block (Kempsey beds), we recognize two facies associations. Facies association A comprises conglomerate and gravelly sandstone with minor sandstone, collectively interpreted as the deposits of coastal to subaqueous marine fans. Facies association B is made of heterolithic intervals of sandstone and mudrock that are interpreted as the products of deposition on a marine continental slope. Younging directions suggest that facies association A represents the basal part of the succession that is overlain by the more heterolithic association. The paleogeographic position of the Nambucca block, in conjunction with its stratigraphy and geochronological provenance, suggests that it formed as part of a large, deep-marine backarc basin. Paleocurrent and paleoslope directions are north to northeast, inconsistent with the present understanding of the Permian paleogeography that involved an approximately north-south–oriented continental margin (in present coordinates) and an eastward-deepening marine surface. This supports previous paleomagnetic interpretations of counterclockwise rotations of adjacent blocks. In conjunction with recently published structural, paleomagnetic, and geochronological constraints, our data suggest that counterclockwise rotations occurred between 285 and 275 Ma in the course of the formation of the southern segment of the New England oroclines (Manning orocline). The rotation incorporated both continental and marine plate margin segments of eastern Gondwana, thereby deforming the deep backarc basin that is partially represented by the Nambucca block. Our data thus provide constraints both on the kinematics and on the timing of the much-debated southern segment of the New England oroclines.

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