The geomorphology of the flanks of the Lord Howe Island volcano, Tasman Sea, Australia.
The flanks of mid-ocean volcanoes are inherently unstable features especially in the constructional phase of development when the volcano is active. Lateral and vertical stresses are placed on the volcanic edifice as it builds, with the flanks continuing to be unstable up to at least 1 Ma after volcanism has ceased. The flanks of the Lord Howe Island volcano record this period of greatest instability and a subsequent period in which marine and subaerial erosion have dominated its geomorphic evolution. Lord Howe Island lies in the Tasman Sea of the Southern Pacific region and is the subaerial remnant of a Miocene mid-ocean volcano. The island has only recently entered reef building seas and therefore has been subject to marine erosive processes over the past 5–6 Ma. The island is unique as it sits on the stable drowned continental crust of the Lord Howe Rise rather than oceanic crust like many other mid-plate basaltic islands. Multibeam sonar bathymetry data were collected to a depth of 3500 m where the island flanks grade into the surrounding planar sea floor. Several slump features are evident, the largest being over 130 km2 in area. These features are inferred to be old (late Tertiary) based on an extensive cover of marine sediment as indicated by low multibeam backscatter intensity and subdued topography. Most likely the slumps formed during the immediate post-eruptive stage of volcano evolution, before the bulk of the subaerial portion of the volcano was removed by marine erosion. Flank processes are now dominated by the deposition of carbonate sediment composed of mollusc and foraminiferal remains. Based on radiocarbon and stable isotope analyses of a sediment core (760 m depth) collected on a trough in the centre of the volcanic edifice, Quaternary sediment was likely deposited predominantly during glacial periods. The erosional morphology, sediment cover and tectonic stability of the region suggest that the flanks of the volcano are at present relatively stable.