The discovery was made possible by using laser data from Royal Australian Navy
Australian researchers have just discovered a massive reef system hiding behind the iconic Great Barrier Reef.
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Researchers had stumbled across this reef system using laser technology from navy. When they mapped the seafloor of the region via aircraft quipped with LiDAR instrument, they found unusual, doughnut-shaped circular mounds, each measuring 200 to 300 meters wide and up to 10 meters deep at the center.
Finding a new reef system is encouraging especially in the context of growing threats to reef systems worldwide including Great Barrier Reef.
“We've known about these geological structures in the northern Great Barrier Reef since the 1970s and 80s, but never before has the true nature of their shape, size and vast scale been revealed.” Dr Robin Beaman from James Cook University, one of the researchers involved in the study said.
These mound-like structures are called Halimeda bioherms because they are formed by common green algae Halimeda. Unlike coral reefs, which are built by thousands of marine invertebrate animals called corals, Halimeda bioherms are formed when algae die. The deceased algae spreads small flakes of limestone in the water that turn into massive structures called “bioherms over the time.
Scanning revealed that the deep sea reef is stretching across more than 6000 square kilometers, making it three times more than the previous estimations.
“They clearly form a significant inter-reef habitat which covers an area greater than the adjacent coral reefs.” Lead author Mardi McNeil from Queensland University said.
Next, researchers want to know how the reef is responding to the climate change so they can determine the extent of damage done to this reef system. Since the algae are composed of calcium carbonate, warming temperatures and ocean acidification could have possibly had a negative impact on this reef-forming organism.
“As a calcifying organism, Halimeda may be susceptible to ocean acidification and warming. Have the Halimeda bioherms been impacted and if so to what extent? Jody Webster from the University of Sydney said.
The discovery of a reef system has opened up a new avenue of research and further researchers will likely provide answers to the questions popping up on the mind.