Abstract

New Caledonia lies at the northern tip of the Norfolk ridge, a continental fragment separated from the east Gondwana margin during the Late Cretaceous. Stratigraphic data for constraining the convergence that led to ophiolitic nappes being obducted over Grande Terre during the Eocene are both few and inaccurate. To try and fill this gap and determine the onset of the convergence, we investigated the lithology, sedimentology, biostratigraphy and geodynamic context of the Late Cretaceous – Palaeogene sedimentary cover-rock succession of northern New Caledonia. We were able to establish new stratigraphic correlations between the sedimentary units, which display large southwest-verging overfolds detached along a basal argillite series, and reinterpret their interrelationships. The sediments from the Cretaceous-Paleocene interval were deposited in a post-rift pelagic environment and are mainly biogenic with minimal terrigenous input. From the base up, they comprise black organic-rich sulphide-bearing argillite, black chert (silicified equivalent of the argillite), micritic with chert, and micrite rich in planktonic foraminifera. These passive-margin deposits are found regionally on the Norfolk Ridge down to New Zealand, and on the Lord Howe Rise, and were controlled primarily by regional or global environmental factors. The overlying Eocene deposits mark a change to an active-margin regime with distal calciturbidite and proximal breccia representing the earliest Paleogene flysch-type deposits in New Caledonia. The change from an extensional to a compressive regime marks the beginning of the pre-obduction convergence and can be assigned fairly accurately in the Koumac–Gomen area to the end of the Early Eocene (Late Ypresian, Biozone E7) at c 50 Ma. From this period on, the post-Late Cretaceous cover in northern New Caledonia was caught up and recycled in a southwest-verging accretionary complex ahead of which flysch was deposited in a flexural foreland basin. The system prograded southwards until the Late Eocene collisional stage, when the continental Norfolk ridge entered the convergence zone and blocked it. At this point the autochthonous and parautochthonous sedimentary cover and overlying flysch of northern New Caledonia was thrust over the younger flysch to the south to form a newly defined allochthonous unit, the ‘Montagnes Blanches’ nappe, that is systematically intercalated between the flysch and the obducted ophiolite units throughout Grande Terre.

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