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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 89, No. 1 (January 2005), P. 119-140.

Copyright copy2005. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.


Cenozoic tectonics of New Guinea

Andrew Quarles van Ufford,1 Mark Cloos2

1Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712
2Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712; cloos@mail.utexas.edu


Andrew Quarles van Ufford earned a B.A. degree in geology from Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, in 1989 and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996. He worked as a geologist on the Asia-Pacific exploration for ARCO until 2000. He obtained an M.B.A. degree from Northwestern University in 2002 and has since been manager of planning at Pioneer Natural Resources, U.S.A. in Irving, Texas.

Mark Cloos earned a B.S. degree in geology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana (1976) and a Ph.D. from the University of California-Los Angeles (1981). He joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 1981 as a structural geologist and is now professor and Getty Oil Company Centennial Chair. His research interests involve all aspects of the geology of convergent plate margins.


We thank James R. Moffett of Freeport McMoRan, Inc., whose idea and support made the Ertsberg Project possible. Dave Potter, Steve Van Nort, Dave Mayes, Tom Collinson, Mark Gilliam, Gary O'Connor, Kris Hefton, Jay Pennington, Keith Parris, Bambang Trisetyo, Peter Sedgwick, Imants Kavalieris, and Art Ona provided discussions and direct assistance. Special thanks to Amelius Beanal, Julianus Magal, Etinus Tabuni, Dominikus Mom, Tiranus Beanal, Benny Dolame, and the Tembagapura helicopter operations crew for assistance during fieldwork. We also thank our University of Texas colleagues Robert E. Boyer, William R. Muehlberger, Sharon Mosher, Rich Weiland, Stefan Boettcher, Paul Warren, Benyamin Sapiie, Eric Beam, Tim McMahon, Eric James, and Stacey Tyburski for discussions and assistance. Reviews by Eli Silver, W. R. Dickinson, E. A. Mancini, and A. Tripathy are greatly appreciated. This is Ertsberg Project Contribution No. 21.


Major hydrocarbon discoveries have been made in eastern and westernmost New Guinea, and there is great potential for additional discoveries. Although the island is a type locality for arc-continent collision during the Cenozoic, the age, number, and plate kinematics of the events that formed the island are vigorously argued. The northern part of the island is underlain by rocks with oceanic island arc affinities, and the southern part is underlain by the Australian continental crust. Based on regional sedimentation patterns, it is argued herein that the Cenozoic tectonic history of the island involves two distinct collisional orogenic events.

The first Cenozoic event, the Peninsular orogeny of Oligocene age (sim35–30 Ma), was restricted to easternmost New Guinea. Emergent uplifts that shed abundant detritus resulted from the subduction of the northeastern corner of the Australian continent beneath part of the Inner Melanesian arc. This collision uplifted the Papuan ophiolite and formed the associated mountainous uplift that was the primary source of siliciclastic sediments that largely filled the Aure trough. Between the Oligocene and Miocene, the paleogeography of the region was similar to present-day New Caledonia. The continental crust under central and western New Guinea remained a passive margin.

The second event, the Central Range orogeny, began in the latest middle Miocene, when the bulldozing of Australian passive-margin strata first created emergent uplifts above a north-dipping subduction zone beneath the western part of the Outer Melanesian arc. The cessation of carbonate shelf sedimentation and widespread initiation of siliciclastic sedimentation on top of the Australian continental basement is dated at about 12 Ma. This collision emplaced the Irian ophiolite and created the present mountainous topography forming the spine of the island.

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