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An assessment of the influence of orbital forcing on Late Pliocene global sea-level using a shallow-marine sedimentary record from the Wanganui Basin, New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-15, 10:42 authored by Sefton, Juliet Perry

Classical Milankovitch Theory suggests variance in the orbital cycles of precession (21,000 year) modulated by eccentricity (~100,000 year) and obliquity (41,000 year) should have a profound influence on polar insolation and ice volume. However, the globally-integrated ice volume proxy record (benthic δ¹⁸O) during the Late Pliocene (3.0-2.6 Ma) is dominated by obliquity-paced cycles, and lacks a significant precession component. A number of conceptual hypotheses have been proposed to explain this “41,000 year problem”, but palaeoclimate records independent of the benthic δ¹⁸O record are required to test these hypotheses.  The Wanganui Basin, New Zealand, contains a well-dated, shallow-marine Neogene sedimentary succession that is widely recognised as an important site for examining sea-level/ice volume changes at orbital frequencies. In this study, the shallow-marine Late Pliocene Mangaweka Mudstone is examined at an orbital-scale resolution (~3-5 kyr sampling) along a continuous 672 metre thick (true thickness) outcropping road section on Watershed Road between the Rangitikei and Turakina River valleys.  Two modern analogue-calibrated water depth proxies were used to evaluate palaeobathymetric changes: (i) sediment texture and (ii) benthic foraminifera census data. An overall trend of shallowing to inner-shelf water depths occurs up-section, but is superimposed by higher frequency fluctuations. For the lowermost ~400 metres of the section, in situ benthic foraminifera assemblages indicate water depths >100 metres. As wave-induced sand transport does not occur on the modern Manawatu-Wanganui outer-shelf, and modern wave climates are assumed to be analogous to the Pliocene, it is concluded that the sediment grainsize approach is not an appropriate proxy for reconstruction water depth changes in the lower ~400 metres of section.  An integrated magneto-, bio- and tephrostratigraphy was developed that constrains the outcrop succession to between ~3.0 Ma and 2.58 Ma. Nine distinct cycles spanning ~400,000 years are identified in the grainsize and benthic foraminifera assemblages. Within the uncertainty of the age model, the Mangaweka Mudstone grainsize cycles can be matched one-for-one to the δ¹⁸O glacial-interglacial cycles, as they display a similar pattern in terms of frequency and amplitude. The frequency of the Mangaweka Mudstone cycles (and the corresponding interval in the benthic δ¹⁸O record) are dominated by the ~40,000 year obliquity cycle, but with a subordinate eccentricity component. Therefore, the fluctuations in the grainsize and benthic foraminifera proxies likely represent an indirect response to global sea-level fluctuations via their effect on continental shelf sediment transport mechanisms (non-wave) with the orbitally-paced transgression and regression of the shoreline on a restricted palaeo- continental shelf.  The implications for the orbital theory of the ice ages are that during the Late Pliocene, global ice volume changes responded primarily to obliquity, and the precession influences were either: (i) too low in amplitude to have influenced the grainsize and benthic foraminifera assemblages in the Mangaweka Mudstone depositional environment, or (ii) cancelled-out in global ice volume and sea-level changes because precession forcing is anti-phased between the hemispheres.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970104 Expanding Knowledge in the Earth Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Naish, Timothy; McKay, Robert