Rocking around a volcanic island shelf: Pliocene rhodolith beds Malbusca, Santa Maria Island (Azores, NE Atlantic)

Rebelo, A.C., Rasser, M.W., Kroh, A., Johnson, M.E., Ramalho, R.S., Melo, C., Uchman, A., Berning, B., Silva, L., Zanon, V., Neto, A.I., Cachão, M. & Ávila, S.P. (2016) Rocking around a volcanic island shelf: Pliocene rhodolith beds from Malbusca, Santa Maria Island (Azores, NE Atlantic).

Facies, 62(22), 1-31. DOI:10.1007/s10347-016-0473-9 (IF2016 1,576; Q2 Geology)
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  • Aug, 2016


Rhodoliths are a common producer of carbonates on modern and ancient shelves worldwide, and there is growing evidence that they thrive on volcanic insular shelves. However, little is still known on how rhodoliths cope with the demands of this particularly dynamic environment. In this study, the focus is placed on fossil rhodoliths from a Pliocene sequence at Santa Maria Island, Azores, in order to gain further insight into the life cycle (and death) of rhodoliths living within a mid-ocean active volcanic setting. These rhodoliths occur as a massive accumulation within a larger submarine volcano-sedimentary sequence that was studied from the macro- to the micro-scale in order to reconstruct the paleoenvironmental conditions under which the rhodolith accumulation was deposited and buried. All fossil rhodoliths from this setting are multi-specific and demonstrate robust growth forms with a lumpy morphology. Moreover, taphonomical analyses show the succession of several destructive events during rhodolith growth, suggesting life under a highly dynamic system prior to stabilization and burial. The rhodoliths therefore tell a story of an eventful life, with multiple transport and growth stages, owing to the environment in which they lived. Transport and deposition to their final resting place was storm-associated, as supported by the general sedimentary sequence. In particular, the sequence features an amalgamation of tempestites deposited under increasing water depths, sediment aggradation, and before burial by volcanic activity. This transgressive trend is also attested by the overall characteristics of the volcano-sedimentary succession, which exhibits the transition to subaerial environment in excess of 100 m above the rhodolith bed.