Peer-reviewed literature

Gloria Knolls Slide: A prominent submarine landslide complex on the Great Barrier Reef margin of north-eastern Australia

Authors: Puga-Bernabeu, A., Beaman, R.J., Webster, J.M., Thomas, A.L., Jacobsen, G.

Year: 2017

Publication: Marine Geology 385, 68-83. doi: 10.1016/j.margeo.2016.12.008


We investigate the Gloria Knolls Slide (GKS) complex on the Great Barrier Reef margin of north-eastern Australia, the largest extant mixed carbonate-siliciclastic province in the world. Based on the most complete bathymetric and sub-bottom profile datasets available for the region, we describe the main surface and subsurface geomorphologic characteristics of this landslide complex.
The GKS forms a 20 km along-slope and 8 km across-slope indentation in the margin, extending from 250 to 1350 m depth, and involves a volume of 32 km3 of sediment remobilized during three events. Three main seafloor terrains can be distinguished based on seafloor morphology: a source area, a proximal depositional area and a distal depositional area.

The source area includes a main headwall scarp with a maximum height of 830 m and a secondary scarp at 670 m depth. The proximal depositional area is flat and smooth, and lacks debris exposed on the seafloor. The distal depositional area has a hummocky surface showing a distinctive cluster of eight knolls and over 70 small debris blocks.

A dredge sample from the top of the largest knoll at a depth of 1170 m reveals the presence of a cold-water coral community.

In the sub-bottom profiles, the mass-transport deposits in the GKS are identified below the background sediment drape as partially confined, wedge-shaped bodies of mostly weak amplitude, transparent reflectors in the proximal depositional area; and more discontinuous and chaotic in the distal depositional area.

The failed sediment slabs of the GKS were evacuated, transported and disintegrated downslope in three events following a sequential failure process spreading successively from the lower slope to the upper slope.

The first event initiated at the lower slope at the depth of the secondary scarp, moved downslope and disintegrated over the basin floor leaving coherent blocks. The subsequent second and third events were responsible for the formation upslope of the main scarp in the GKS.

The timing of emplacement of the first GKS event, constrained by radiometric age of fossil biota from the surface of the largest slide block, was at least before 302 ± 19 ka.

The presence of alternating mixed carbonate and siliciclastic lithologies that build the slope might have played an important role as a preconditioning factor in this region. Preliminary estimations suggest that unusually large seismic events were the most likely triggering mechanism for the GKS.

This work contributes to the understanding of large mass-movement deposits in mixed carbonate-siliciclastic margins and provides a useful morphologic characterization and evolutionary model for assessing its tsunamigenic potential with further numerical simulations.

In addition, the discovery of a cold-water coral community on top of the largest knoll has implications for identifying similar landslide-origin cold-water coral communities on the GBR margin.

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