Newly Discovered Reef Towers Over the Ocean Floor
by Nevaeh Powell, age 13
Near the end of October while observing an area near the Great Barrier Reef, scientists found one of the largest underwater structures discovered in over a century: a reef structure made of coral.
The scientists that found the reef were on a year long expedition surveying the seabed around Australia. As the researchers were traveling on the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research ship, the Falkor, they were using an subaquatic robot called SuBastian. SuBastian used technology that allowed the scientists to explore and create 3D maps of the ocean. As the group was on their journey, they discovered the tower or “detached reef.'' A detached reef is a structure, or tower in this case, that isn't attached to a larger nearby reef but sits alone at the bottom of the sea floor.
The tower is 1,640 feet above the sea floor at its highest point and nearly a mile wide at the bottom. The tower is taller than the Empire State Building, and it's top is just 130 feet below sea level.
“It’s a big reef not to have known about,” said James Cook University researcher and trip leader, Tom Bridge. “What it highlights is how little we know about a lot of the ocean, even the Great Barrier Reef.”
Scientists discovered seven similar towers by Northern Australia’s Cape York Peninsula in the 1880’s. Each of these eight towers have disconnected from the Great Barrier Reef, which lives in the ocean just northeast of Australia. With an area greater than many countries in Europe, the reef is the largest in the entire world being over 134,000 square miles in size.
The Great Barrier Reef, just like all reef structures, was gradually developed by small coral animals over many years. A wide variety of aquatic species rely on these reefs as homes or food sources. However, due to the effects of climate change and an increase in ocean temperatures, reefs around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef, have experienced great injuries. Nearly half of the corals making up the Great Barrier Reef have died in the last 25 years.
Luckily, scientists have concluded that the recently discovered coral tower has not yet suffered much from climate change. This will give researchers the opportunity to study healthy coral and its role in its ecosystem in the ocean.
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Schmidt Ocean Institute