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International Ocean Discovery Program
Expedition 369 Preliminary Report

Australia Cretaceous Climate and Tectonics

Tectonic, paleoclimate, and paleoceanographic history of high-latitude southern margins of Australia during the Cretaceous1

26 September–26 November 2017

B.T. Huber, R.W. Hobbs, K.A. Bogus, and the Expedition 369 Scientists

Published February 2018

See the full publication in PDF.


The tectonic and paleoceanographic setting of the Great Australian Bight (GAB) and the Mentelle Basin (MB; adjacent to Naturaliste Plateau) offered an outstanding opportunity to investigate Cretaceous and Cenozoic climate change and ocean dynamics during the last phase of breakup among remnant Gondwana continents. Sediment recovered from sites in both regions during International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 369 will provide a new perspective on Earth’s temperature variation at sub-polar latitudes (60°–62°S) across the extremes of the mid-Cretaceous hot greenhouse climate and the cooling that followed. The primary goals of the expedition were to

  • Investigate the timing and causes for the rise and collapse of the Cretaceous hot greenhouse climate and how this climate mode affected the climate-ocean system and oceanic biota;
  • Determine the relative roles of productivity, ocean temperature, and ocean circulation at high southern latitudes during Cretaceous oceanic anoxic events (OAEs);
  • Identify the main source regions for deep-water and intermediate-water masses in the southeast Indian Ocean and how these changed during Gondwana breakup;
  • Characterize how oceanographic conditions at the MB changed during the Cenozoic opening of the Tasman Passage and restriction of the Indonesian Gateway;
  • Resolve questions on the volcanic and sedimentary origins of the Australo-Antarctic Gulf and Mentelle Basin and provide stratigraphic control on the age and nature of the prebreakup successions.

Hole U1512A in the GAB recovered a 691 m thick sequence of black claystone ranging from the early Turonian to the early Campanian. Age control is primarily based on calcareous nannofossils, but the presence of other microfossil groups provided consistent but low-resolution control. Despite the lithologic uniformity, long- and short-term variations in natural gamma ray and magnetic susceptibility intensities show cyclic alternations that suggest an orbital control of sediment deposition that will be useful for developing an astrochronology for the sequence.

Sites U1513–U1516 were drilled between 850 and 3900 m water depth in the MB and penetrated 774, 517, 517, and 542 meters below seafloor (mbsf), respectively. Under a thin layer of Pleistocene–upper Miocene sediment, Site U1513 cored a succession of Cretaceous units from the Campanian to the Valanginian. Site U1514 sampled an expanded Pleistocene–Eocene sequence and terminated in the upper Albian. The Cenomanian–Turonian interval at Site U1514 recovered deformed sedimentary rocks that probably represent a detachment zone. Site U1515 is located on the west Australian margin at 850 m water depth and was the most challenging site to core because much of the upper 350 m was either chert or poorly consolidated sand. However, the prebreakup Jurassic(?) sediments interpreted from the seismic profiles were successfully recovered. Site U1516 cored an expanded Pleistocene, Neogene, and Paleogene section and recovered a complete Cenomanian/Turonian boundary interval containing five layers with high total organic carbon content.

Recovery of well-preserved calcareous microfossil assemblages from different paleodepths will enable generation of paleotemperature and biotic records that span the rise and collapse of the Cretaceous hot greenhouse (including OAEs 1d and 2), providing insight to resultant changes in deep-water and surface water circulation that can be used to test predictions from earth system models. Paleotemperature proxies and other data will reveal the timing, magnitude, and duration of peak hothouse temperatures and any cold snaps that could have allowed growth of a polar ice sheet. The sites will also record the mid-Eocene–early Oligocene opening of the Tasman Gateway and the Miocene–Pliocene restriction of the Indonesian Gateway; both passages have important effects on global oceanography and climate. Understanding the paleoceanographic changes in a regional context provides a global test on models of Cenomanian–Turonian oceanographic and climatic evolution related both to extreme Turonian warmth and the evolution of OAE 2.

The Early Cretaceous volcanic rocks and underlying Jurassic(?) sediments cored in different parts of the MB provide information on the timing of different stages of the Gondwana breakup. The recovered cores provide sufficient new age constraints to underpin a reevaluation of the basin-wide seismic stratigraphy and tectonic models for the region.

1Huber, B.T., Hobbs, R.W., Bogus, K.A., and the Expedition 369 Scientists, 2018. Expedition 369 Preliminary Report: Australia Cretaceous Climate and Tectonics. International Ocean Discovery Program.​10.14379/​