Subtropical sea-level history from coral microatolls in the Southern Cook Islands, since 300 AD

Ian D. Goodwin*, Nick Harvey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Relative sea-level (RSL) history is reconstructed for the Southern Cook Islands since 300 AD using Porites sp. coral microatolls. The upper surface or height of living coral of the modern microatolls on Rarotonga was rigorously determined by 400 laser survey measurements to be constrained by the sea-level - 0.36 m (below Mean Sea Level) with a standard deviation of ± 0.008 m, that is equivalent to midway between Mean Low Water Neaps and Mean Low Water Springs tidal datums. Fossil microatoll history on the fringing reefs is fragmentary due to multi-decadal to centennial windows of microatoll growth, cyclone destruction, and preservation through coastal progradation. The mid-late Holocene highstand ceased prior to 500 BC and RSL fell from + 1.3 ± 0.1 m to 0.45 ± 0.15 m by 1000 AD at a rate of - 0.5 mm/yr. The RSL minimum occurred during the late 1700s to 1800s AD at - 0.2 m below present, before rising during the 1900s. During the past 500 yr RSL fluctuated, including an abrupt fall at ~ 1750 AD following a sustained multi-decadal high anomaly. Similarly, low RSL anomalies and slow coral growth rates during the 950 to 1000 AD period are indicative of Pacific Basin-wide climate variability and are consistent with extreme La Niña-like climate anomalies previously reported around the Pacific basin. The fall in RSL during the first millennium AD crossed-over tidal thresholds for rapid coastal progradation, when ambient Mean High Water Neaps and Mean High Water Springs fell below the low tide level of the mid-late Holocene high stand. This coastal response is inversely analogous to the projected response to sea-level rise during the latter part of the modern century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-25
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Geology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • climate variability
  • coral microatoll
  • fringing reef
  • Porites sp.
  • sea-level history
  • south-west Pacific


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