Story at a glance

  • The coral reef was found by a team of Australian scientists aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor on Oct. 20.
  • Researchers carried out a live-streamed dive and explored the reef using an underwater robot named SuBastian.
  • At 500 meters high, just more than 1,640 feet, the reef is taller than the Empire State Building, the Sydney Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, researchers noted.

A massive detached coral reef taller than the Empire State Building has been discovered by scientists in Australia’s Great Barrier reef.

The coral reef was found by a team of Australian scientists aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor on Oct. 20. The vessel is on a year-long exploration of the ocean area surrounding Australia, the research institute said. 


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On Oct. 25, researchers carried out a live-streamed dive and explored the reef using an underwater robot named SuBastian that revealed the true size of the finding. 

Scientists said the base of the blade-like reef measures 1.5 kilometers wide — nearly 1 mile — then rises 500 meters to its shallowest depth of only 40 meters below the surface of the sea. 

At 500 meters high, just more than 1,640 feet, the reef is taller than the Empire State Building, the Sydney Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, researchers noted. 

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

“The state of our knowledge about what’s in the ocean has long been so limited. Thanks to new technologies that work as our eyes, ears and hands in the deep ocean, we have the capacity to explore like never before. New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us,” Schmidt said. 

Researchers said the finding is the first of its kind in more than 120 years. 

There are seven other tall detached reefs in the same area that have been mapped since the late 1800s, including the reef at Raine Island, which researchers called “the world’s most important” green sea turtle nesting area. 

In August, the team of scientists also discovered five undescribed species of black coral and sponges and recorded Australia’s first observation of a rare scorpionfish in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks. 

The Great Barrier Reef covers nearly 133,000 square miles making up about 10 percent of the world’s coral reef ecosystems. 

But the reef is currently under threat due to warming sea waters driven by climate change. A recent study found Australia’s Great Barrier Reef lost more than half of its corals since 1995.


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Published on Oct 27, 2020