The presence of a greater unexplored reef beyond the Great Barrier Reef has been suspected and speculated for more than 3 decades, Australian researchers recently found convincing evidence of its extent.
The Great Barrier Reef is probably on many bucket lists of travelers worldwide. It is among the most visited places on the earth and was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It has also been declared as one among the seven wonders of the Natural world. The Great Barrier Reef is located along the coast of Australia and spreads for about 3000 km long. It is larger than the Great Wall of China and is the only natural living thing visible on earth from space. This astounding marine park has a unique ecosystem and is home to several marine species including 1500 fish species, sea snakes, turtles, whales, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs, crocodiles, sharks, stingrays, various mollusks and sea grasses.
Massive Reef Discovered
While the Great Barrier Reef mesmerizes the traveler, for a long while it has been explored by scientists. The probing mind of scientists, way back in the 1970s and 80s realized that there was something beyond the Great Barrier Reef. These speculations turned to facts very recently when Australian researchers of the James Cook University in collaboration with the University of Sydney and the Queensland University of Technology with the help of the Royal Australian Navy established the presence of a reef far greater than the Great Barrier Reef lying just beyond it.
The newly discovered massive reef expands over 6000 sq Km and has several doughnut-shaped mounds each of which is 200 to 300 meters across and as deep as 30 meters. The massive reef has been mapped from the Torres Strait to North of Port Douglas. This discovery was only possible with the analysis of results provided by the Australian Navy aircraft fitted with LiDAR remote sensing technology hovering over the suspected area to gather data.
LiDAR is an abbreviation for Light Detection And Ranging that employs lasers instead of radio waves to measure long distances. LiDAR technology calculates the distance by measuring the time it takes for the lasers to hit the targeted surface. This technology has also been used by archaeologists to discover long forgotten ruins and civilizations; this technology is perfect for the study of marine topography too. The researchers also employed multibeam echosounder bathymetry data that uses echoes to measure the distance and study marine topography.
The new discovery has been published online in Aug in the Journal Coral Reefs. It has given a high-resolution spatial mapping of the extent of the coral reef and its Halimeda bioherms. Halimeda are algal species that are green when living but calcify to form coral structures on death. The calcified structures called bioherms are the doughnut-shaped mounds observed in the study. These bioherms will be able to provide scientists with enormous data as they are fossilized forms and provide stories on climate history and living conditions of the ocean.
The reef is 60-150 feet deep and has not been explored very much. Future studies will employ subsurface geophysical surveys and autonomous underwater vehicle technologies to explore the reef further to understand its physical, chemical and biological backgrounds. Scientists look forward to learning the history that these bioherms have to tell about.