Reef drowning and backstepping have long been recognised as reef responses to sea-level rise on subsiding margins. During the Late Pleistocene (~ 500-14??ka) Hawaiian reefs grew in response to rapid subsidence and 120??m 100??kyr sea-level cycles, with recent work on the submerged drowned reefs around the big island of Hawaii, and in other locations from the last deglacial, providing insight into reef development under these conditions. In contrast, reefs of the Early Pleistocene (~ 1.8-0.8??Ma) remain largely unexplored despite developing in response to significantly different 60-70??m 41??kyr sea-level cycles. The Maui-Nui Complex (MNC - forming the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe), provides a natural laboratory to study reef evolution throughout this time period as recent data indicate the reefs grew from 1.1 to 0.5??Ma. We use new high resolution bathymetric and backscatter data as well as sub-bottom profiling seismic data and field observations from ROV and submersible dives to make a detailed analysis of reef morphology and structure around the MNC. We focus specifically on the south-central region of the complex that provides the best reef exposure and find that the morphology of the reefs varies both regionally and temporally within this region. Barrier and pinnacle features dominate the steeper margins in the north of the study area whilst broad backstepping of the reefs is observed in the south. Within the Au'au channel in the central region between the islands, closely spaced reef and karst morphology indicates repeated subaerial exposure. We propose that this variation in the morphology and structure of the reefs within the MNC has been controlled by three main factors; the subsidence rate of the complex, the amplitude and period of eustatic sea-level cycles, and the slope and continuity of the basement substrate. We provide a model of reef development within the MNC over the last 1.2??Ma highlighting the effect that the interaction of these factors had on reef morphology. ?? 2009 Elsevier B.V.
Additional publication details
The morphology and distribution of submerged reefs in the Maui-Nui Complex, Hawaii: New insights into their evolution since the Early Pleistocene