Mylroie, J.; Lace, M.; Albury, N., and Mylroie, J., 2020. Flank margin caves and the position of mid- to late Pleistocene sea level in the Bahamas. Journal of Coastal Research, 36(2), 249–260. Coconut Creek (Florida), ISSN 0749-0208.
The Bahamian Archipelago has abundant fossil coral reefs and related subtidal deposits as evidence of the last interglacial (marine isotope stage [MIS] 5e) sea-level highstand; evidence of earlier highstands from the mid-Pleistocene is limited and controversial (excepting Mayaguana Island). Data from flank margin cave elevations, used as a sea-level proxy, were initially interpreted to demonstrate an MIS 5e origin derived from ∼60 mapped caves across the archipelago. A new analysis of cave morphologies and distribution has now produced 363 maps of flank margin caves, demonstrating for the first time that 26 caves with associated elevations between +8 and +24 m above modern sea level are found spanning the northwest to the southeast boundaries of the archipelago. Flank margin caves are the primary remaining evidence of past sea-level position, because almost all mid-Pleistocene subtidal deposits, and related sea-level indicators such as subtidal facies, sea caves, and bioerosion notches, have been removed by karst denudation. Cave elevations up to 24 m (above sea level) indicate that prior assumptions as to the rate of subsidence of the Bahama Banks at 1–2 m per 100 ka may not be correct. The activity of MIS 5e was recent enough, and its subtidal deposits voluminous enough, to survive to the present, along with the majority of flank margin caves formed at that time. Karst denudation may have created sufficient mass loss that isostatic subsidence stopped, or was possibly reversed, as has been demonstrated for the Florida peninsula. If true, then mid-Pleistocene flank margin caves may not represent eustatic sea-level position at the time of speleogenesis.