Abstract

The Great Australian Bight (GAB), the largest sector of the southern Australia continental margin, is a site of cool-water carbonate sedimentation throughout, ranging from locally warm-temperate inboard to cool-temperate outboard. Surficial sediments are a mixture of calcareous Pleistocene skeletal and lithic intraclasts (relict grains), and Holocene biofragments, with minor amounts of quartz inboard. The inner shelf is an area of abundant macrophytes and seagrasses, active carbonate sediment production and accumulation, and little relict sediment. The huge middle portion is a "shaved shelf" with active sediment winnowing and mostly relict sediment. The outer shelf and upper slope is a variably productive sediment factory characterized by prolific calcareous epibenthic growth on hard substrate subaqueous "islands" shedding particles into surrounding sands and muds.

Patterns of Holocene sedimentation are linked to modern oceanographic parameters in this high-energy setting characterized by overall downwelling. Prolific rhodoliths occur on the NW inner shelf, where shallow summer waters are the warmest in the GAB. These warm, saline, nutrient-depleted waters then drift eastward across the shelf, suppressing heterozoan carbonate production on the central and eastern mid-shelf. This arrested production in the eastern GAB is countered locally by summer coastal upwelling along western Eyre Peninsula, with bryozoan-rich sediment extending well inboard onto the mid-shelf. The outer shelf and upper slope is an area of prolific bryozoan growth, likely linked to upwelling, except in the central GAB, a region of year-round downwelling, where the area is one of off-shelf fine sediment transport and carbonate mud deposition. These patterns, in the central GAB at least, are present in the underlying Holocene and Pleistocene, suggesting that the general modern oceanographic dynamics and resultant carbonate sedimentation have persisted throughout the Quaternary.

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