International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 102, Issue 8, pp 2225–2238 | Cite as

Bucket structure in carbonate accumulations of the Maldive, Chagos and Laccadive archipelagos

  • Wolfgang Schlager
  • Samuel J. Purkis
Original Paper


Peritidal platforms rimmed by reefs, and raised reefs rimming deep lagoons, are characteristic morphologies of the tropical carbonate factory; their geometry contrasts sharply with the seaward-sloping shelves of siliciclastic margins. The structure has been compared to a bucket—stiff reef rims holding a pile of loose sediment. Remote-sensing data from the Maldive, Chagos and Laccadive archipelagos of the Indian Ocean show that ring reefs with bucket structure are the dominant depositional pattern from patch reefs of tens of meters to archipelagos of hundreds of kilometers in diameter, that is, over more than 4 orders of magnitude in linear size. Over 2.5 orders of magnitude, the bucket structures qualify as statistical fractals, exhibiting self-similar patterns and size distributions following power laws. However, most regional or genetic subsets of the data follow lognormal distributions and small subsets of lagoon reefs exhibit exponential distributions. Seismic data and boreholes in the Maldives indicate that the bucket has been a dominant depositional motif since the Oligocene. Ecological and hydrodynamic studies on modern reefs suggest that the bucket structure is a form of biotic self-organization: the edge position in a reef is favored over the center position because bottom shear is higher and the diffusive boundary layer between reef and water thinner. Thus, the reef edge has easier access to nutrients and is less likely to be buried by sediment. The bucket structure reflects these conditions. Karst processes have accentuated the surface relief of the buckets, particularly in the late Quaternary.


Shelf edge Carbonate platform Ring reef Atoll Nutrient uptake Size-frequency analysis Fractal 



The Landsat tiles came courtesy of the US Geological Survey. We acknowledge Google Earth for online imagery and GeoEye for IKONOS imagery. We thank the Chagos Research Expedition of 2006, funded largely by the FCO, London, for resources which enabled fieldwork in the British Indian Ocean Territory. We thank C. Braithwaite and an unknown reviewer for insightful comments on the manuscript. L. Montaggioni and E.C. Rankey contributed valuable comments on an earlier draft of this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Earth and Life SciencesVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.National Coral Reef InstituteNova Southeastern UniversityDaniaUSA

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