During the Early Cretaceous Australia’s eastward passage over sinking subducted slabs induced widespread dynamic subsidence and formation of a large eperiogenic sea in the eastern interior. Despite evidence for convergence between Australia and the paleo-Pacific, the subduction zone location has been poorly constrained. Using coupled plate tectonic-mantle convection models, we test two end-member scenarios, one with subduction directly east of Australia’s reconstructed continental margin, and a second with subduction translated ~1000 km east, implying the existence of a back-arc basin. Our models incorporate a rheological model for the mantle and lithosphere, plate motions since 140 Ma and evolving plate boundaries. While mantle rheology affects the magnitude of surface vertical motions, timing of uplift and subsidence depends on plate boundary geometries and kinematics. Computations with a proximal subduction zone result in accelerated basin subsidence occurring 20 Myr too early compared with tectonic subsidence calculated from well data. This timing offset is reconciled when subduction is shifted eastward. Comparisons between seismic tomography and model temperature cross-sections, and an absence of subduction zone volcanism in eastern Australia in the Early Cretaceous provide support for the back-arc basin scenario.
Matthews, K. J., Hale, A. J., Gurnis, M., Müller, R. D. & Dicaprio, L. 2011. Dynamic subsidence of Eastern Australia during the Cretaceous. Gondwana Research, 19, 372-383.
Note: This paper grew from an Honours Thesis undertaken by the primary author entitled Cretaceous palaeogeography of Eastern Australia: connecting the deep Earth to surface processes. The Honours thesis and appendices are also available for download.
Download the Honours thesis – pdf
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