A new borehole, 210 mbsf (meters below sea floor) deep, drilled in Ribbon Reef 5 on the Great Barrier Reef off Cooktown, NE Australia, reveals a shallowing-upwards succession, the younger part of which is punctuated by a series of erosion surfaces. Nine depositional units have been defined by lithological changes and are numbered sequentially from the base of the hole upwards. Aminostratigraphy, magnetostratigraphy, radiocarbon dating, uranium series dating, and modeling together with strontium ratios have been applied in an attempt to establish a chronology of accumulation.

Carbonate deposition began about 770 ka ago in a relatively deep-water slope environment and is represented by a series of debris flows. Lithoclasts within these rocks, indicate that older limestones already existed in the area. Subsequent accretion involved the downslope accumulation of grainstones and wackestones, sometimes cross-laminated, characterized by intervals with abundant rhodoliths and scattered, probably reworked, corals. Four units at the base of the hole reflect deposition that probably began during isotope stage 16 and continued through stage 15 from about 770 to about 564 ka. Unit 5 probably extended to stage 11 (about 400 ka), and unit 6 to stage 9 (∼ 330 ka).

Typical reefal associations of corals and calcareous algae were established in this area only above depths of about 100 m in the borehole, units 5-4. The succession is apparently unbroken to an erosion surface at 36 mbsf indicating subaerial emergence. The lack of evidence of emergence below this surface reflects progressive accretion or progradation or both. Two younger erosion surfaces define further periods of lowered sea level. Unit 7 is attributed to deposition during isotope stage 7, but erosion during stage 8 resulted in the preservation of only 8 m of unit 7 limestones. Unit 8 is correlated with stage 5 (∼125 ka), and unit 9 is interpreted as Holocene (post 7,700 ka). The limited thicknesses of units 7, 8, and 9 are considered to reflect erosion. The progressive shallowing brought the depositional surface within the zone exposed during lowstands, and there is no sedimentological evidence that aggradation was restricted by a lack of accommodation.

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