Shelf-edge delta and reef development on a mixed siliciclastic–carbonate margin, central Great Barrier Reef
November 30, 2020

Authors: Daniell, J., Manoy, T., Beaman, R.J., Webster, J.M., Puga-Bernabéu, Á.

Year: 2020

Publication: Shelf-edge delta and reef development on a mixed siliciclastic–carbonate margin, central Great Barrier Reef. Journal of Sedimentary Research 90(10), 1286-1304. doi: 10.2110/jsr.2020.61


The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the world’s largest extant mixed silicilastic–carbonate margin. Previous research on the Great Barrier Reef has suggested that the extensive barrier reef system may act as an impermeable barrier and limit the development of delta systems during lowstands, but sufficient geophysical data to support this hypothesis are lacking.

We use dense sparker seismic and sub-bottom profiler data to better understand the structure of a large lobe-shaped feature (~10 km × 10 km) on the shelf edge of the central GBR and the interactions between siliciclastic and carbonate sedimentary systems. Interpreted sparker seismic contains prograding clinoforms and suggest that the lobe-shaped feature was a river-dominated shelf-edge delta.

A delta on the shelf edge implies that the presence of an exposed barrier reef was not a major impediment to deposition and that other adjacent lobe-shaped features are also deltaic deposits. The shelf-edge deltas were deposited onto a broad upper-slope terrace that allowed continued progradation and limited incision when sea level fell below the shelf edge. Delta foresets are commonly colonized by coral reefs, but the spatial and temporal relationship between reefs and some deltaic units remains unclear.

The presence of multiple shelf-edge deltas that link to previously mapped Burdekin River paleo-channels indicates a complex history of sedimentation, with the Burdekin River delta migrating up to 100 km along the GBR margin during the late Quaternary. Regional bathymetric data suggest that large modern or recent shelf-edge deltas are rare on the GBR and that there was a broad range of sedimentary processes operating along the margin of the GBR during periods of low sea level.

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