Monday, 30 Nov 2020

Scientists discover 500m skyscraper-height coral reef at Australia's Great Barrier Reef

CAPE YORK, AUSTRALIA – Scientists have discovered a massive coral reef – higher than the Empire State Building – at the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

Measuring more than 500m high, the detached reef is the first to be discovered in over 120 years, California-based non-profit group Schmidt Ocean Institute announced earlier this week.

This means the reef is also taller than the Sydney Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, both of which measure 305m and 452m respectively.

“This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,” said Ms Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute.

The reef was first discovered on Oct 20 by Australian scientists aboard the institute’s research vessel Falkor, currently on a 12-month exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia, while conducting underwater mapping of the northern Great Barrier Reef seafloor.

The team then used an underwater robot SuBastian to explore the new reef.

Dr Robin Beaman from James Cook University, who was leading the team of scientists who discovered the reef, said they were surprised and elated by what they found.

“To not only 3D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible,” said Dr Beaman.

According to the institute, the base of the blade-like reef is 1.5km-wide, then rises 500m to its shallowest depth of only 40m below the sea surface.

“To find a new half-a-kilometer tall reef in the offshore Cape York area of the well-recognised Great Barrier Reef shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coastline,” said Dr Jyotika Virmani, executive director of the institute.

Newly discovered 500 meter tall detached reef adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the northern Great Barrier Reef. PHOTO: SCHMIDT OCEAN INSTITUTE

This newly discovered detached reef adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the area, mapped since the late 1800s, including the reef at Raine Island-the world’s most important green sea turtle nesting area.

The Great Barrier Reef runs 2,300km down Australia’s north-east coast spanning an area half the size of Texas.

R/V Falkor holding position on the outside of Ribbon Reef #5 as ROV SuBastian works its way up the shelf, working to reveal – for the first time – evidence into the origins of the Great Barrier Reef. PHOTO: SCHMIDT OCEAN INSTITUTE

It was world heritage listed in 1981 by Unesco as the most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem on the planet.

However, in recent years, it has lost more than half its coral in the last three decades due to bleaching, triggered by record-breaking temperatures.

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