Critical Depth for the Survival of Coral Islands: Effects on the Hawaiian Archipelago

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Science  03 Feb 1989:
Vol. 243, Issue 4891, pp. 638-641
DOI: 10.1126/science.243.4891.638


Coral islands drown when sea level rise exceeds the maximum potential of coral reefs to grow upward (about 10 millimeters per year). During the Holocene transgression (18,000 years ago to present) sea levels rose at rates of up to 10 to 20 millimeters per year, and most coral island reefs situated deeper than a critical depth of30 to 40 meters below present day sea level drowned. Coral islands that did not drown during the Holocene transgression apparently all developed on antecedent foundations shallower than critical depth. During low stands in sea level during the Pleistocene, these islands were elevated and subject to subaerial erosion. Today, in the Hawaiian Archipelago, the depth of drowned banks is inversely related to summit area; smaller banks are progressively deeper, evidently because of erosional truncation during low sea level stands. Bank summit area may therefore be an important factor determining the failure or success of coral islands.

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