Coral Reefs

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 235–248 | Cite as

Pleistocene morphology and Holocene emergence of Christmas (Kiritimati) Island, Pacific Ocean

  • C. D. Woodroffe
  • R. F. McLean


 Christmas (Kiritimati) Island is an unusually large coral atoll, of which a large proportion of the surface is presently subaerial. Extensive outcrops of in situ branching Acropora corals, together with Porites microatolls, Tridacna, and other shallow marine biota, indicate that the present low-lying area of interconnecting lakes in the island interior formed as a reticulate lagoon. Radiocarbon dating indicates that these lagoonal reefs flourished between 4500 and 1500 radiocarbon years BP, and surveying confirms that sea level was 0.5–1.0 m above present at that time, with subaerial exposure resulting from Late Holocene emergence. Boreholes undertaken for a water resources survey of the island penetrated near-surface Pleistocene limestones on the northern, southern, and eastern sides of the island. These are highly weathered and fractured, and although aragonitic clasts are preserved, U-series dating indicates a Middle Pleistocene or older age. At one location flanking the Bay of Wrecks, an outcrop of limestone, with an erosional notch, 1–2 m above present sea level, yielded a U-series age of 130 ka, and is interpreted as Last Interglacial in age. In contrast to previous interpretations which have suggested that Christmas Island comprised an atoll superstructure that is entirely Holocene, or the layer-cake interpretation appropriate for many mid-ocean atolls, Christmas Island appears to have had a form similar to its present in the Middle Pleistocene or earlier. It has undergone karstification during lowstands. Interglacials, particularly the Last Interglacial and the Holocene, appear to have resulted in only a minor veneer of coral over older limestone surfaces. Christmas Island is considered characteristic of an atoll that has not experienced significant subsidence through the Late Quaternary.

Key words Atoll Pleistocene Holocene Emergence Radiometric dating Christmas Island 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. D. Woodroffe
    • 1
  • R. F. McLean
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Geosciences, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, AustraliaAU
  2. 2.Department of Geography and Oceanography, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, ACT 2601, AustraliaAU

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