During the last two decades, drilling through recent coral reefs has resulted in an increasing knowledge of reef growth patterns since the Last Glacial Maximum (past 20 000 years). The rapid deglacial sea level rise, from 18 000 to between 6 000-3 000 years BP, was accompanied, in the tropics, by the settlement of three successive reef generations, within the periods of 18 000-14 700, 13 800-11 500 and 10 000 years BP-Present, respectively. Most of these reefs are submerged between 140 m and less than 10 m of water depth. Reef growth has principally been constrained by local environmental factors, among which nutrient levels, sea surface temperatures, substrate availability and hydrodynamic energy have probably been dominant. Permanently balanced conditions have promoted continuous growth (a gradational model); in most cases, reef development has been discontinuous (a punctuated model), due to disruption of the biota. The relative influence of these various factors remains uncertain. (C) 2000 Academie des sciences/Editions scientifiques et medicales Elsevier SAS.
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